Album Review: Peaking Lights – Lucifer

[Mexican Summer; 2012]

Peaking Lights have always been a bit of an oddity. The husband and wife duo has often embraced their poppier inclinations, but without the sort of hooks that stick with you. Their dubby aesthetic seems more a match for the cracked psychedelia that often marks the lineups of experimental festivals like Poland’s Unsound than the pages of the indie rock outlets that have championed their latest works. And the success they found with last year’s 936 certainly brought them a greater appeal than many of the acts from their old home, weirdo LA label Not Not Fun. It is in this success that they’ve birthed a brand new record–one that seems to justify, more than ever, their interesting position between the the pop, indie rock, and more experimental worlds.

All that being said, there was something about 936 that was a little odd. It was a largely formless entity, despite its obvious roots in ’60s dub reggae and the pseudo-spiritual undertones that Indra Dunis’ lyrics lent the tracks. It was a pop album without real hooks, an album so reliant on reverb that it began to lose all shape. There was a certain bleary-eyed charm to the compositions that Aaron Coyes and Dunis put together on their homemade synths, but with the major exception of “All The Sun That Shines” there really wasn’t a whole lot to grab onto.

That major gripe is largely remedied with the release of this latest full length, Lucifer. Though the tracks are largely similar in their narcoleptic, bass heavy construction, Dunis’ melodies tend to be a lot stickier. Tracks like lead single “LO HI” lack the nebulous nature of the duo’s earliest material, but though the mystery is gone, we’re left with playful vocal lines more typical of their Mexican Summer labelmates than the experimental scene that spawned them.

These aren’t the same folks that put out the self-serious attempts at transcendence on 936 and Imaginary Falcons. The drift and murk of past records here is traded in favor of catchy songcraft. Tempos are up, and the focus on upbeats is largely gone. Vocals are clearer, and they sound downright happy. The birth of their first child Mikko plays no small part in this. Though he is made literally present in the babbles on “LO HI,” one can’t help but think that the new appreciation for upbeat melodies comes from the presence of Mikko in their lives away from the studio. It’s not to say that their grooves are up to Stereolab standards of sweetness, but on Lucifer, Coyes and Dunis are certainly embracing the saccharine rather than the narcotic underworld of records past.

While Peaking Lights came into this album lurking largely in the hazy fringes of the consciousness of music fans, with Lucifer they’ve made an album that more clearly demands the active attention of those who might happen upon it. It’s maybe appropriate that they’ve made a move to a label less known for their experimental aesthetic because with hook-laden songs like the funk inflected mantras of “Midnight (in The Valley of The Shadows),” this is a record destined for much wider appeal.