Making a pop song longer than four minutes is a daunting task in 2012. Given the lessening importance of the LP format, the song as an individual unit needs to be a convenient unit of fan-to-fan communication. A 3:30 run time is much more likely to pass from person to person than a 6:45, even among seasoned genre listeners. In lieu of volume or frequent chord and tempo changes, dub-pop duo Peaking Lights must sustain a listener’s attention through texture alone. The band is capable, however, of making highly entertaining music that is both long and repetitive. Their songs often clarify themselves as they progress, giving the listener a clearer picture of a theme each time it is repeated. That theme is based upon a deeply penetrating core, such as an adventurous bass line or a hypnotic vocal refrain. At its best, Peaking Light’s music does not need to be mulled over to be effective. We are automatically drawn to its center with a persistent but captivating aura.
Peaking Light’s debut LP, 936, was filled with such music. It was swollen ripe with low hanging melodies that burrowed into the listener’s soul via rumbling bass and distant keyboards. Its rhythms sounded ancient and immovable, as if etched into the earth’s crust. Listening to the album was a disoriented trip through the shallowly suppressed emotions of longing and loneliness. It was both vast in its reach and intimate in its complexity. The band’s newest LP, Lucifer, is an attempt to explore feelings that are not as easily accessed. Its songs are more various and structurally intricate. The songs “Beautiful Son” and “Long Live” trade in 936’s intricate bass and reggae influences for the cheerier sounds of a quiet, sunny island resort. “Midnight (In the Valley of Shadows)”, on the other hand, gives the usual slow-rolling dub a sinister twist through creepy effects and jagged keyboard lines. Often, however, Peaking Lights fails to properly explicate the emotion of each song. Fear, anxiety, and expectation of hinted throughout, but often the redundancy of the duo’s chosen refrain becomes tedious before it can provide sufficient texture. The songs often lack the formidable stakes of their past work, creating light melodies with far less touching movements.
Unfortunately, the album’s incomplete sound is due to a disparity within the band. The instrumental portions of all songs are highly effective, even at their most restrained. The bass, guitar, keyboards, and drum effects weave within each other as if they were played by a single musician. They tap into the ominous, universal qualities of each theme and shake the listener from below. Singer Indra Dunes’ universe seems to be much smaller. Her lyrics are mannered and monotone, like a child singing rhymes on the playground, obsessed with a crush. The vast difference in thematic importance is sadly irreconcilable. The album’s best tracks turn out to be those most similar to their previous output. It would be hard to say that the band should attempt to retrace their own musical steps, but I would advise progressing more slowly than Lucifer’s creative clip. Its goals do not make it a disappointing album, it is, rather, the fact that those goals are never reached. An album with a more refined sound rather than a broad palette would, in fact, become a more adventurous experience for the listener, rather than the band.
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// Notes from the Road
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