April 28, 2011
Review: Peaking Lights – ‘936’
Peaking Lights – 936
Not Not Fun Records
The heat that audibly pours from Peaking Lights’ second album doesn’t necessarily conjure images of the group’s base in the northern US state of Wisconsin, or indeed Berlin where it was mastered. However, 936’s delightfully shambolic bedroom-recording feel – all tape machines and analogue delays – doesn’t rely on location to find its feet. Complete with audible quality reduction and tape hiss from bouncing down takes on 4-track machines, the album sounds like every psychedelic-dub jam band think they sound like – until they listen back to recordings of their stoned noodlings and are compelled to enrol in law school while simultaneously placing their entire Jah Wobble collection on Ebay.
While its ethos is firmly rooted in dub, 936’s template is widely sourced. Opener ‘Synthy’ builds keyboard lines on top of keyboard lines, a simple tap of electro snare tying together a psychedelic space jazz feel that sits happily between darker Sun Ra moments and lost interludes from Steve Miller Band’s mid ‘70s output.
‘All the Sun that Shines’ has been popular with the tastemaker blogs, and for good reason. A rumbling 7-minute dub colossus complete with sparkling Hammond and spaghetti western guitar riffs, the track’s foundation is its deceptively mesmeric rhythm. Never has an intermittent one note bassline been so effective in driving a groove since Fred Thomas understated his way through James Brown’s timeless classic ‘Mind Power’.
Peaking Lights comprises members Aaron Coyes and vocalist Indra Dunis of Bay Area bands Rah Dunes and Numbers, a husband and wife team with an eclectic musical history. Although their sentiment and manifesto remain the same, the couple have matured and defined their sound since debut Imaginary Falcons: that release being a ragtag collection of haunted compositions and musical porridge. 936 finds a natural home on leftfield imprint Not Not Fun Records alongside such comfortable bedfellows as Pocahaunted’s Make it Real and Ducktails’ self-titled debut.
‘Birds of Paradise Dub Version’ features a vocal constructed from a creative use of vowel sounds, reminiscent in delivery of the late Trish Keenan, while all the time a lurching beat trys to restrain a bass attempting a daring escape from the speakers: one of the many consistent features that ties this set together nicely. ‘Key Sparrow’ is a jaunty slice of lo-fi indie, as close to orthodox song writing as 936 manages, before it’s back to the window-rattling with the menacing ‘Tiger Eyes (Laid Back)’.
Although heavily reliant upon it, the album’s low-end prominence is occasionally a little too much. While obviously taking pointers from King Tubby’s meandering basslines, those of Peaking Lights tend to assert themselves in the mix at the expense of everything else, and the album would become unlistenable on a system of any real power. But then this album was made from – and should be listened to with – a lo-fi perspective, neither background nor party music. Closer ‘Summertime’, along with ‘Key Sparrow’, hints at a pleasant deviation from the intensity of their neighbouring tracks that could have been explored had Coyes and Dunis wished to supply an accessible insight into their musical world. But then that was never the point of Peaking Lights, and 936’s main strength lies in its ruthless and often triumphant adherence to theme and concept.