That girl on the cover. Alice Schulte Gira. The kind of beauty that can give you nightmares. Those cheeks, that look. I can almost imagine Hitchcock walking into the room shouting ‘Cut!’ The smile that can drive you insane. Perfect image for this horror film of an acoustic folk album.
Michael Gira’s initial idea was that he would call this band The Pleasure Seekers. However, providence was against such gruesome irony (since there already was a band with that name), so he went for Angels Of Light. It is still ironic, of course, but not any more than Swans. Or the opening chords of “Untitled Love Song”. Or the soft-silky voice of The Cowboy from Mulholland Drive. There is definitely pleasure here, and there is definitely light. But there is always menace. It's inherent.
The first two songs, “Evangeline” and “Untitled Love Song” (surely one of this world’s greatest love songs), are languidly strummed acoustic beauties. Basically, this is Gira’s take on country music. Then it gets unnerving, and the sinister guitar underpinning “My True Body” is as calm as it is intense. The lyrics are ghastly, Gira’s voice is pure anxiety mixed with depression. There is no hope. “Jennifer’s Sorry” is lighter. It sounds like a pretty lullaby for suicidal babies. The grimly elegiac “Song For Nico” brings me to tears, and that was just the first five songs.
Slow, gorgeous, ominous grooves. And almost accessible – that is, if you can get past the bleak, monotonous vibe. Who knows, you might even find this stuff relaxing. The only song here I would call ‘difficult’ is “New City In The Future”. It’s like a nasty dream, like a bad memory slowly crawling under your skin, and the feeling becomes unbearable. Screams at the end will test every faint heart exposed to this album. “My Suicide” is more of that unsettling imagery, and “New York Girls” is like an army of ghosts drifting through desert sands. “Public Embarrassment Blues” is lyrically vicious, culminating in the deadly ‘leave me alone’ line. “Two Women” is a twelve minute epic with an elegant, faux-sunny atmosphere that almost offers… hope. But can you really say that?..
How I Loved You is as long (70 minutes) and oddly seductive and black and white as its cover art suggests. And monumental – like any of Gira’s works. It’s an album to experience, to live with or maybe to survive. As far as musical experiences go, this tops any lists. I once listened to this album lying on a floor in an unknown city, in a state of total emotional collapse. I don’t think it gets any more special than that. But then again, I don’t think you will do it justice by just pressing play.
It’s a devastating album. But that’s the sweetest devastation imaginable.