Light Asylum’s self-titled LP reviewed

, 30 April 2012

If you wait long enough, good things will come. At least, that’s an aphorism that proved true for synth-pop duo Light Asylum. Formed as a solo project by booming voice and Brooklyn institution Shannon Funchess six years ago, it wasn’t until she met keyboardist and electronic musician Bruno Coviello in a touring minivan that it took on a life of its own. Long hours on the road, common interests and serendipity saw the live band proper blessed with a soul connection.

A shared penchant for the gothic new wave of their teen years and fruitful inner battle with a Christian upbringing (Funchess is raised Baptist, Coviello Catholic) culminated in a well-received EP release, In Tension, in 2011. The name of that recording is an apt descriptor for the band’s ongoing oeuvre, spilling out into this highly anticipated self-titled album debut, out on Mexican Summer this week. Early 80s influences in Souixsie and the Banshees and Depeche Mode come through in industrial beats and a sense of urbanism that is entirely natural, given the inner city backdrop from whence the band came. A Pietà graces the album cover, framed by galaxies and Egyptian symbols –the added imagery culminating in a strong sense that Light Asylum is much more than just the sum of its parts.

The Grace Jones comparisons are obvious. That’s more for Funchess’ androgyny and cropped hair. The raw power of her commanding voice cuts deeper with the emotional affectation of blues singer Odetta, along with the bold remonstration of Big Mama Thornton. Funchess’ autocratic charisma is what made Light Asylum a long time local favourite in NYC and, as a live band first and foremost, her ecstatic stage presence, offset by an unassuming Coviello is captivating. Militaristic movements, combined with the mercenary uniform –part punk, part bondage –create a world that is both escapist and foreboding. That same immediacy is captured in their album, where chilly synth-lines are welded into pop hooks, only occasionally dusted with a sample like a horse in ‘A Certain Person’ or bestial moans in ‘Heart of Dust’.

Funchess’ lyrics, meanwhile, read as slogans for revolution from her own Little Red Book of social justice, while declaring “These words are not tokens/ these words are sincere,” in ‘Angel Tongue’. That’s a sentiment often lost among other, younger contemporary musicians, too caught up in the dicey world of experimental electronics and emotional distance. Near-forty years of age and waiting it out into an era where artists like Zola Jesus and Salem proved glitch-y goth could be cool again, Funchess and Light Asylum boldly announce that they make “music with intent”, safe in the warm embrace of a post-irony where all things sensitive permeate global music. Some of us, at least, aren’t satisfied with mere parody and gentle critique and ‘IPC’ echoes that active sentiment, as Funchess barks, “Go tell the man/ we are freedom/ fighters/ Fuck em!” Amen.

Light Asylum’s self-titled album is out on Mexican Summer May 1, 2012.