Each Tuesday, FADER editor Matthew Schnipper highlights an underappreciated recent release he thinks we need to know about. This week it's Angels of Light's album We Are Him which you can buy here. Listen to "Promise of Water" from the record down below and read about it after the jump.
It’s weird when Michael Gira calls you. I used to work at a place that did a lot of things for a lot of people and he was one of them. We had caller ID and it said “M GIRA” and his phone number and I would get very nervous. What do you say to the man who wrote a song called “Raping a Slave?” Especially when you know he is calling. Do you say “Hello” and pretend you don’t know it’s him? But then you unpurposefully sound tentative because your body can’t help that little quiver. Or do you say “Hi Michael, it’s Matthew” so he knows you know it’s him and so he knows it’s you? But that assumes a level of intimacy. Eventually we got to a level of familiarity, and I went with the latter. This was, I believe, boosted by my lengthy fawning on the advanced CD-R copy of the Angels of Light record (held in the above photo, the note reading “Here ya go Peter, Hope you enjoy! Best, Michael”). It wasn’t empty fawning, neither, it was fully hilted slobby goober praise that I expected to be lauded in heaps when the album was released this past August, but it wasn’t. I don’t know why. Maybe because he’s always been there; a trillion Swans records, a trillion Angels of Light records, a trillion years of regular reliable Gira. I probably never would have listened, either, if it weren’t sent to a place where I sorted the mail. But it was, this full familied Amish folk field recording, plain and base on an early spring repeat.
Sounding not entirely dissimilar to a fuller Smog recording—this is the record Bill Callahan may have made instead of Woke on a Whaleheart if he had soaked himself in the Carter Family black and not bright gospel uplift—We Are Him has an ancient praise to it, full fiddles and large chorus, macabre farm music. “Promise of Water,” the second song, is exemplary of this rounded spook. Kept steady by some sort of shaker and an elementary pluck, Gira pleads, his voice doubled southern blues. He has a powerful call, something simple to miss because it feels creepy and that can encompass. He’s so calmly ripe, though, that when he warbles that “there’s nothing to feel/ because nothing is real” it sounds like a calm logical FYI from your friendly narrator, not a warning or a bemoaning, just a descriptive movement of the story from the place of apt omniscience. He’s now steadied by a black veiled fiddle and a chorus of unhappy ah-ooh-ers, and continues a morbid environmental mourning (“your body drifts by and your lungs fill with mud”). The shaker is quick, rattlesnake-like, the guitar steel stringed and everything fleshed and morbid and I’m queased listening to the gigantic crow caw of death and then half a minute before the song ends, the group chorus forms from the wordless haunt, Gira’s wailing troubadours: “And just as it was, this is how it will be/ And just as it was this is how it will be/ For the promise of water I’ll walk on my knees.” They sing without active strings, only the lingering reverberation that then fades, only the stomping wet drum thump and the little tinker of a shake, big voices booming. Then it drops and there is five seconds of something that has something electronic happen to it to make it squeal and drone, a tiny drop that clears up quick and the song finishes. It’s all, well, it’s all very wise. Do you ever wonder why so often people do their best work when they are young though when they are older they have done so much more, known so much more? I understand youthful fire, but why is it so difficult to marry that to rabbinical wisdom? Michael Gira’s musical historical trajectory here is encircled and forwarded and cinched the way it should. There is a needed heft of an older man’s voice and life, the dulled sadness at the world an open observer should have, but the uplifting need to represent and mimic and make and We Are Him comes from that blend of dry beauty and heavy sage.