“Light pollution” is defined as “any adverse effect of artificial light including sky glow, glare, light trespass, light clutter, decreased visibility at night, and energy waste” (thanks Wikipedia!). So what exactly does that have to do with the recent Carpark signing from Chicago? All it takes is one listen to their hazy, layered psych-pop to figure out exactly why the band chose Light Pollution as their name. On their debut album, Apparitions, the quartet utilizes a traditional anthemic indie rock sound, but colors it in with atmospheric sound effects, strings, and bits of noise to make for a (mostly) unique approach.
The charging guitars on opening track “Good Feelings” are familiar sounding, but when combined with James Cicero’s howling whine and a cacophony of noise towards the last minute of the song, it’s clear that Light Pollution have more tricks up their sleeve than your average indie rock quartet. The bouncy keyboard melody combined with a subtle swell of strings on the following track, “Oh, Ivory!”, is even further proof of that fact.
Although it may appear that Light Pollution are the odd men out on a record label roster that contains such Baltimore stalwarts as Dan Deacon and Beach House, they’re certainly not opposed to the experimental nature that both of those groups like to employ, especially the shoegaze sound of a band like Beach House. On the first half of “Fever Dreams”, the song starts with a standard verse-chorus-verse progression and Cicero singing over ‘80s-sounding echoed drums and twinkling riffs and then morphs into a Deerhunter-reminiscent shoegaze song with rushes of cymbals, synth melodies, and Cicero moaning.
“Deyci, Right On” also stays in the Deerhunter vein, with Cicero continuing to moan nonsensical lyrics as atmospheric sound effects and organs swirl around him. Light Pollution is very good at being an indie rock quartet, but when they experiment with their sound, it’s hit or miss. Instead of channeling Bradford Cox with his vocals, Cicero would fare better if he sang the same way in every song and tried to cultivate his own style instead. He even starts to pick up on Panda Bear’s vocal inflections on “Bad Vibes”, ruining the pummeling percussion and maelstrom of guitars with his second-rate vocal impression.
Although Cicero and Light Pollution still have quite awhile to go before they’re the ones being emulated rather than the ones doing the emulating, Apparitions is a solid debut album from a band that definitely has a lot of potential. If the shimmering riffs and larger-than-life melodies of “All Night Outside” and “Witchcraft” are any evidence, Light Pollution are experts at crafting modern psych-pop songs. Next time around, they just need to figure out the difference between experimentation and emulation.