Gira has no pretension toward punk. The primitivism in some of the album's songs isn't a rejection of musicianship for its own sake. Long stretches of How I Loved You are played with deceptive scrupulousness; the presence of underground guitar hero Kid Congo Powers on two tracks is tip-off enough of that. Vibes, sleigh bells, melodica and lap steel keep eleven-minute epics such as "Two Women" from being endurance tests. The considered arrangements -- which, fortunately, don't obscure the strong voice-and-guitar roots of the songs -- are well matched to Gira's bleak words, spreading a canvas before him rather than becoming a blanket of pointless instrumental repetition.
Gira's lyrics, some of them nakedly pleading, aren't first-draft Poetry 101 rejects. (Now I am your mute cousin/ young shaved virgin whore/on my prison steel bed I wait for you, Gira sings on "My True Body," his words actually commendable second drafts from Leonard Cohen 101.) More than just a set of charcoal sketches outlining an emotional horror movie, more than a leap into the vacuum left by the Velvet Underground, Gira's disc creates its own uniquely nocturnal vortex.