Angels of Light
Everything Is Good Here/Please Come Home
used to have a guitar teacher who listened to music that I, at the time, deemed to be “really out there”—elusive time signatures, bizarre improvisational interplay, the whole bit. He taught me a lot about music, but the most important lesson that stuck in my mind was his belief that all music was based on the tension/release principle. To demonstrate, he took out his guitar and repeatedly played a shrill, two-note chord that sounded absolutely horrendous. But as he gently moved one of his fingers down the fret board, finally resting on a note that harmonized perfectly with the first, I understood completely. It’s this lesson that I think about whenever I hear the Angels of Light’s latest outing, Everything is Good Here/Please Come Home—because every time the ever-present tension on the album becomes unbearable, it suddenly becomes soothing and comfortable, while never fully dropping the feeling of queasiness that was so excruciating moments before.
Everything is Good Here crackles to life with “Palisades.” Over lovingly plucked and strummed guitar lines, lead singer Michael Gira (of 80’s cult band The Swans fame) croons “Fall down to the ocean/fall down through the breeze/drifting below/you are weightless and free.” It’s a very pretty, simple moment. But as the song kicks in, it’s the first time to feel it—the uneasiness. Something is not right. An instrument missing. A chord misplayed. Something. And as Gira re-enters, his words reflect this change of attitude, as he softly asks “Do you see how/they ruined your mind?/Do you see how/they wasted your life?” and concludes the song with the line “Reasons won’t come/and no one will regret that you’re gone.” Um, OK.
The next song, “All Souls’ Rising,” is an exercise in tension. The guitars and drums plod along deliberately, bullying anything in their path, band members are prone to burst out with random shouts at any point, and the harmonica and organ add nothing but dissonance to the mix, as Gira insists “it is not me!” But as the song collapses, it transitions into the gorgeous “Kosinski,” which has a chord sequence somewhat reminiscent of (oddly enough) U2’s “Bad,” and is even a bit sentimental, with the narrator recalling “touching blonde hair that’s a river/of transparent liquid light” and “small breasts rising/with the rhythm of your breathing.” The album is full of both of these types of moments- it’s this contrast that makes Everything is Good Here/Please Come Home such an achievement.
On “The Rose of Los Angeles,” Gira sheds his low, Greg Dulli-esque croon and adapts a petrified Isaac Brock tone, as he belts out “Gone, gone, gone, gone, gone!” over honky-tonk piano and demented woodwinds. The song comes off as surreal as the big band marches on In The Aeroplane Over The Sea, making it a definite highlight. The real high water mark of the album is certainly “Sunset Park,” the swirling, hypnotic climax of the album. The song is almost hymnal, with the sole line “She brings some/she’ll bring one” chanted endlessly (in different variations) over processional drums, harmonica wheezes, steady bass, chiming guitars and entranced backing vocals. The song achieves an indescribable power in its repetition, and it is unquestionably the most memorable and enjoyable moment on the album.
One of the greatest strengths of Everything is Good Here/Please Come Home is its ability to sound majestic without sounding epic- without all the cheesiness and pomposity that epic implies. It’s a concept album, but only in the way that the Microphones make concept albums, wildly ambitious but ultimately sincere and personal. Actually, this is the type of album one might wish The Microphones had followed up The Glow, Pt. 2 with instead of Mt. Eerie. And although the more intense parts of the album, especially “All Souls’ Rising” and “The Rose of Los Angeles,” might seem a bit too much during the first listen, in the end they’re just as rewarding as the more accessible moments, playing off of the calm and serenity of the quieter tracks to blow the listener away with their bombast and nausea.