Angels of Light | Theater Critic's Choice | Chicago Reader

Angels of Light 

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It's good when artists age gracefully, but it's even better when they do it strikingly. Take Michael Gira: His old band Swans took a daring turn in the mid-80s from brutal crunch into brooding gothic songcraft, and the transition, captured in 1987 on Children of God, was a little bumpy. Gira was notoriously dissatisfied with the band's Bill Laswell-produced major label debut, The Burning World, in '89 and Jarboe, his partner in crime since '86, took more than her share of blame from Gira's old fans. But once they hit their stride together, they produced a singular hybrid of pulsating noise, feminist dark folk, and goosebumpy electronics, in particular on their last studio album, Soundtracks for the Blind. Gira and Jarboe parted ways in 1997, and since then Gira has been one prolific son of a bitch, using his Young God label to release records by up-and-comers like Flux Information Sciences and Windsor for the Derby as well as Swans reissues and a constant stream of his own projects. He's put out a solo record, The Somniloquist, under his own name; another with a studio band, the Body Lovers; and recorded a duo album, What We Did, with Windsor's Dan Matz. But the best of his post-Swans stuff comes from his song-oriented working band Angels of Light, whose latest album, How I Loved You, is heart-wrenchingly good. On spare and graceful downward-gazing numbers like "Evangeline" and "New York Girls," Gira draws tenderness out of himself as though it's painful; on "My True Body" he lets loose a trace of that old visceral self-laceration cushioned in a throb that makes it seductive. Gira's deep, enunciating voice, his backup singers, and his sense of sparse furnishings hint at Leonard Cohen's influence; while he's not the wit or the wordsmith Cohen is, he's one of the few in that line capable of a comparable level of spiritual force. And Gira's better poised than anyone to prove that melody can be as potent a weapon as volume. Friday, December 14, 10 PM, Empty Bottle, 1035 N. Western; 773-276-3600.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Aurelio Valle.

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