Review Summary: "Goodbye Jane"
Michael Gira is a man who revels in misery. After his uncompromisingly brutal work with Swans in the 1980s (which remains some of the heaviest music ever recorded), Gira turned to more subdued forms of anguish and depression in the following decade. Proving that he didn’t necessarily have to be loud to get his point across, Swans became rooted in dark, psychedelic folk rock for a few albums before exploring the worlds of drone, post-rock and ambient music on their 1996 opus Soundtracks for the Blind
. That album would signal the end of Swans until their surprising reunion in 2010, and it was during this period that Michael Gira began a new project known as The Angels of Light.
The Angels of Light took a far more song-based approach than Swans, focusing on melody and harmony rather than cacophonous noise and jarring rhythms. Dabbling in folk and country music, their 1999 debut album New Mother
only hinted at what was to come a couple of years later. Whereas New Mother
featured a massive 17 songs, How I Loved You
almost equals its colossal 70-odd minute runtime in only 10 tracks. The reason for this lies in the latter’s ability to allow the songs to grow and sprawl over Gira’s barren soundscapes. Opener “Evangeline” almost effortlessly combines country with post-rock, a weird combination to say the least, but it works perfectly. The song builds slowly, subtly going from a simple acoustic guitar riff into an emotional climax with the full band, and the line “I can feel it now” being repeated as the music dies down. It’s a wonderful start to the album and this continues into “Untitled Love Song,” replete with female vocals and beautiful melodies.
“My True Body,” however, bears more in common with Swans due to the dark subject matter and occasionally shouted vocals. “New City in the Future” is another sinister-sounding track that erupts towards the end of its 12 minutes with Gira screaming “You were mine” like a madman. This forms the centrepiece of the album and unfortunately sets in motion the few mediocre numbers that follow, with “New York Girls” being the chief culprit. It’s not a bad song by any means, but it doesn’t really go anywhere to justify its length. Thankfully the best is saved for last with “Two Women,” perhaps the most brilliant song in the whole Angels of Light discography. Like the opener, it’s a sprawling epic that builds towards a magnificent climax. This time around, though, the real beauty is contained within the final minute as the music begins to fade away and Gira mutters the words “I can’t live without you... goodbye Jane.” That moment alone makes the whole album worth getting through, even though there are some typically oppressive and even frightening moments to withstand.
How I Loved You
marked the end of an era for The Angels of Light, as the next few releases slowly began to realise the sound that would lead to the eventual reformation of Swans. Nevertheless, this album remains the pinnacle of the band’s work and it would take Michael Gira another 11 years before his potential was this fully realised again.