Peaking Lights Peaking Lights936
One of the most interesting aspects of hypnagogic pop is the tension that exists between an almost Dystopian urban vision, already associated with Burroughs, K. Dick or Ballard, and a pastoralism close to New Age, a direct influence in some cases. Peaking Lights is on this latter end, as the continuous references to light, sun and animals sparrows and tigers make clear, apart from tracks like “Hey Sparrow” which, with their infantile melodies, remind you of an American version of Vashti Bunyan. In fact, the couple fled to the countryside, much like Bunyan did in her day, turning an old building somewhere in the Midwest into their home and recording studio, and it’s more than likely that because of that, this record has a bright and benevolent air of being in touch with nature, in a clear reflection of conjugal domesticity that’s also present in the warm and earthy atmosphere supplied by their recordings, using analogue equipment and dub techniques.
Dub is, without a doubt, the most important element on this album, each and every one of the tracks has been constructed from cavernous basslines and rhythm boxes, over which more poppy aspects, like the dispassionate yet emotive voice of singer Indra Dunis, Morricone-like guitars (like another outstanding hypnagogic pop record from last year, by Forest Swords) and cosmic synths are laid. Dub supplies the most physical aspect, pop the most dreamy one and a lysergic perspective gives the whole a state between wakefulness and sleep, which is hypnagogia. The overall feeling is that the design of these songs has been thought through to the last detail, without forgetting to leave room for respiration so that they don’t become rigid. The effect the band looked for was to reflect their hallucinatory experience with the landscape of the American Midwest, and they have already declared in interviews that they use synaesthesia as a starting point for the composition of their music. At the same time, the intricate production doesn’t suppose a significant increase in the cleansing of their sound with regards to their previous albums, and the grain supplied by the analogue equipment isn’t being hidden, rather the opposite, as on other hypnagogic pop records, where the lo-fi status is a question of both aesthetic and principle.
The album starts with “Synthy”, under three minutes of superimposed layers of synths that prove the duo’s interest in textures, timbres and tones, and in the feeling of space created between the different layers. “All The Sun That Shines” is one of the most outstanding tracks, after an almost disco-like start the song propels on thanks to a bassline and the blocks of synths with dub echoes. “Amazing And Wonderful” combines another fibrous bassline with cosmic synths. “Birds Of Paradise Dub Version” is the dubbiest track, think Lee Perry’s Black Ark period and King Tubby over an almost Kraut rhythm. “Tiger Eyes” has the most memorable and hypnotic rhythm of the album, plus some shoegaze guitars that reinforce the dreamy aspect, while “Marshmellow Yellow” explores rhythmic territories bordering on dub-techno, and on the last track, “Summertime” the sound that stands out is a very New Order-like guitar.
Sure, it remains to be seen if this flight to New Age territory, how ever much it comes tinged with lo-fi, rugged textures and/or more or less hypnotic and frantic rhythms, keeps hiding the same traps as ever, avoiding the real problems, taking refuge in an idyllic vision of nature, although we have to keep in mind that New Age, in the eighties, was associated with an economic euphoria which at present seems far away. And the truth is that I won’t be the one to question the wiseness of going to the countryside if the result is such a well-constructed and exciting dub-pop-psychedelica record as this one.