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Peaking Lights Peaking LightsLucifer

7.7 / 10

Little by little and echo by echo, Peaking Lights started to conquer the underground in 2011 with a sound that, on paper, didn't seem all that original: a brew of lo-fi psychedelia, with echoing lashes of dub and brightly candid melodies. However, the more you listened to them, the better it sounded and the more experimental it turned out to be. Their being part of the Californian Not Not Fun family explained a lot (the duo, a married couple in real life, formed by Indra Kunis and Aaron Coyes, was the archetypal Not Not Fun band), and maybe their leaving the imprint and joining Weird World explains the changes on “Lucifer”, which are few but significant: more clarity, more lightness, less bass lines.

Weird World is that part of the Domino empire where the strange and unclassifiable music lives. It's distributed separately (through Mexican Summer), and it will help Peaking Lights to reach a wider audience than a modest, DIY label such as Not Not Fun could ever guarantee them. And that's exactly what the twosome needs: an audience: songs on their first album, like “Hey Sparrow”, indicated that they could provide potential hits for the oddball indie kids. Those who still fondly remembered bands like Laika and early Stereolab from a seemingly distant past; or even further back, to the days of post-punk, like a version of PiL cured from psychopathy or a softer Talking Heads. A label like Too Pure would be their natural home, even more so now that “Lucifer” has polished the sharp edges of “936”, presenting a much more professional, balanced sound. It’s in accordance with the change of tone towards the relics of easy listening, rather than heavy dub bass lines, which sound more liquid now. There's less echo and more primitive synth arpeggios, though the reggae and calypso influences haven't disappeared entirely (why should they?), like on “Live Love”, “LO HI” and, indisputably, “Cosmic Tides”.

With this cleansing operation, one of the most important features of “936” has disappeared. What was so attractive about Peaking Lights was the savage state of their music; the very intuitive way it seemed to come from some strange desert, where the mirages force you to see a Jamaican oasis, where there was nothing but a sad and lonely cactus. It had that fine layer of noise and slovenliness, a certain new age spirit, and dreams of pop. The pop is no longer a dream here, it's reality; all the tracks are 'songs', with the exception of the gracefully ringing “Moonrise”, and “Morning Star”. The latter two pieces obviously indicate that “Lucifer” is a trip that goes from dusk to dawn – remember that Lucifer, in some religions, is the morning star. The name means light and isn't always equated with evil. Furthermore, the songs sound with less reverb and noise, in favour of jumpy percussion and some pleasant synthesisers to accompany a couple of hours of relaxation. It's most likely a reflection of the happy times the couple are living: they became parents last year, of a boy named Mikko (who appears 'sampled' on “LO HI” and is referred to on “Beautiful Son”); the record is optimistic, looking at the future with starry eyes. That's why the easy listening factor is stronger here, even though the cocktails Peaking Lights serve up still have more peyote than gin.

Compared to “936”, “Lucifer” is less ambitious. It couldn't be any other way, given that Peaking Lights' previous album reinforced its aura of one of the year’s most original and unique LPs as 2011 advanced, until it reached the highest spots in the end of year lists (today, it's still one of the moral winners of the year); and the duo haven't experienced an evolution shocking enough to surpass the surprise and aesthetic reach of that album. “Lucifer” is a conservative record, cultivating songs where, before, there was aridity. It's a more civilised but less mythical piece; their magic is still there, but now it's white magic, like the album sleeve. It favours the pleasant song, because that's where the goldmine is: after drawing the attention of a certain, aware part of the public, now it's time to increase it and seduce it with a plainer sound (much like the way Bowery Electric broke through when they added hip-hop beats to their space-rock), without losing their unique personality. They've grown wider, because - to be honest - they simply couldn't get any higher.

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