Even when he's trying to be romantic, Michael Gira can't quite shake the rage, obsessiveness, and self-loathing that fueled the Swans for two decades. These days, he's gained some distance, though; perhaps the persona he's built up has become amusing to him.
"I used to think that everyone else in the world was an enemy," he says. "Now I see them as potential seducees. Both positions are equally untenable, naturally, but also, regrettably, equally pleasurable."
It's this concept of seduction instead of destruction (or maybe seduction as a prelude to destruction) that fuels his new band, Angels of Light, and its recent release, How I Loved You. Gira has written what he claims are 10 love songs for the album. This definition depends on whether the listener considers lines like "I'm your stupid child now/Who is shaking with grief in your mouth/And I'm calling your name from hell" suitable for a love song.
"I tried to write them as if they were written by the various objects of desire/ regret/love/longing/revenge in question, rather than by me personally, or maybe by a third party who had witnessed the disaster and bliss of the thing," Gira says.
He claims to strive for impartiality in his songs, which may explain why they so often seem more like rants or sermons than traditional lyrics. It's the music, then, that keeps the listener from fleeing an Angels of Light disc in abject terror. Far from the skull-cracking wall of noise the early Swans conjured, How I Loved You is folkish and trancey, with acoustic guitars mingling with lap steel, vibraphone, dulcimer, accordion, and soft, brushed drums to create an atmosphere that won't be unfamiliar to fans of the Cowboy Junkies. It's all the more beautiful for being so unexpected.