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Angels of Light
While his countless post-punk contemporaries wallow in self-misery and miserable poetry, Michael Gira -- the former leader of avant-noise-droners Swans -- creates a ruptured synthesis of blues, folk, and rock with his new acoustic-based group. While the music is enticingly lush and occasionally somber, Gira's lyrics remain enigmatic and vaguely personal, summoning the soul and emotion of collective history within the expression of personal experience. While the 17 majestic, narrative songs of the Angels of Light debut, New Mother, on Gira's own Young God Records, unveil a completely new group and aesthetic, Gira's inimitable songwriting bears similarities to the Love of Life- and Burning World-era Swans, meshing world folk musics and dissected blues.

Not surprisingly, Gira brings along several former Swans members (including multi-instrumentalists Bill Rieflin and Bill Bronson) to the extended cast of contributors for the singer's first album and group tour since Swans dissolved over two years ago. "Praise Your Name" opens the album with delicate vibraphone chimes that lead into acoustic guitar strums and trickling piano trills as Gira asks, "Where are you wounded girls with bruised faces and blackened eyes?" The group's theme song, "Angels of Light," begins with guitars and vibes locked onto a single chord in the signature arpeggio formula of later-period Swans, while tracks like "Song for My Father" and "Forever Yours" are quiet and forlorn. Gira is vague about the details when he softly sings, "Thank God you never saw the person I've become," his voice cracking in acceptance of an undisclosed shame. Fragile, personal, and emotional without ever tugging at our heartstrings, Gira utilizes the tension, release, and texturing of instruments to punctuate his lyrics. He invites us into his pain and ecstasy, but only long enough for us to identify with the emotions being conveyed -- Gira's voice may be our own.

-- Dave Clifford

Angels of Light perform Sunday, June 20, at 9 p.m. at the Great American Music Hall, 859 O'Farrell (at Polk), S.F. Stars of the Lid open. Tickets are $15; call 885-0750.

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