There are two extraordinary things about this debut album from Brooklyn’s Lights. First, you have the close, eerie harmonies of Sophia Knapp and Linnea Vedder, sweet but with an edge of madness, casting flowers Ophelia-style into drowning currents of sound. Second, you have the guitar, filtered through every sort of pedal, different from song to song, but everywhere mesmerizing. When the two work together, as on the extended, mind-changing “Break, Run, Fly”, it is as if the female half of, say, Feathers had stepped in front of an early run-through of “Interstellar Overdrive”.
In its way, Lights’ first album expands on and reaffirms the trippy, electric folk aesthetic set down by Espers’ Greg Weeks, who produced the CD and released it on his Language of Stone imprint. It’s one where fluorescent-colored guitar solos erupt from delicate tapestries of folk harmonies and acoustic picking. Other Language of Stone artists—Ex Reverie, for instance—have picked up this idea and run with it, giving a distinctly female slant to the fairy-and-unicorn rocking sound. Lights fit into this continuum, too, but take it a bit further into classic psych territory, with sustains and delays and wah-wah wails integrated into a blues-inspired, free-form guitar foundation. It’s a purer rock sound, built on classic rock instruments—no flutes, no cellos, no mandolins.
It is also a very female sound, formed around the close, otherworldly voices of founders Sophia Knapp and Linnea Vedder (who also plays drums). They join breathily, easily, wordlessly in the opening to “At Midnight…”, at first in unison, then splitting into tight harmonies. And then one of them breaks off into flourishes and counterpoints. There is a lightness to this singing, a feeling that it could slip off and float away, yet when it comes undone it is in a sudden crescendoing explosion, rather than a drift. Sweetness hides strength. Cooing can break into storms of panting. There is nothing cute or precious here.
In their most rewarding songs, Lights bring these two elements together: the trippy, sometimes abrasive rock underpinnings and the delicately lovely singing. “Lick the Blood”, for instance, starts with the cavernous buzz and echo of electrified guitar, brings in the monumental shuffle of bass and drums, and then overlays the high, syrupy tones of women in harmony. But it is with the two-part “Sing O-O-O”, which closes the album, that the contrast is brought to its full flowering. Here vocals are almost abstracted, wordless, unnaturally high but dopplering down as the notes extend. The guitar hisses underneath, all feedback that approaches and recedes in waves. It’s Fursaxa with a stack of amps, or the Vocokesh backing a choir of angels; unlikely as it is beautiful. Yet this paranormal opening leads inexorably into the steady, gospel pulse of the song, guitar turning sweet with 1960s wah, drums slack-jaw slow, voices twined in pretty patterns.
In the end, maybe that’s what’s fascinating about Lights. It’s not that they can dip into psychedelic chaos. It’s not that they can sing gorgeous, melodic harmonies. It’s that they can do both, going way, way out and coming right back in, sometimes at the same time.