Apparently, Peaking Lights don’t even own a CD player. If that doesn’t say something about the Wisconsin-based parental duo’s foresight regarding that fast-fading format of the 90s, then it certainly leads them as far away from an ‘internet band’ as you can get. Interesting, when you consider the musical milieu where they’ve been placed. Gaining widespread acclaim and attention for their 2011 album 936 out on Not Not Fun, their dub-inspired beats –dragged along a line of makeshift sounds and homemade synthesisers –could easily be lumped in with the aforementioned Californian label’s stable of bands born from the great WWW. But what differentiates the hybrid spiritualism of Aaron Coyes and Indra Dunis from the cyber-rituals of Pocahaunted or YouTube-sample alchemy of Maria Minerva is that their back step forward is a result of some good old-fashioned vinyl crate digging.
As connoisseurs of the wide scope of what is often reduced to the category of ‘world music’, Peaking Lights’ last endeavour was an almost perfect distillation of a universe of influences developed independently of digital downloads. With an already distinguished underground reputation behind them and a baby on the way, the San Fran-born outfit found them selves matching, even surpassing, the scope and output of its youngest contemporaries. So much so that, while still promoting 936, they’d already moved on to recording a follow-up in Lucifer, released on Weird World (UK) on June 18 and Mexican Summer (US) on June 19.
Engineered by Al Carlson (Oneohtrix Point Never, Airbird) at Gary’s Electric studio in the New York suburb of Greenpoint in January and dropped six months later, the album crystallises the Peaking Lights sound even further. Extracting the avant-pop essence that made the breezy surfer melody of ‘Hey Sparrow’ and the groovy dub of ‘All the Sun That Shines’ so intoxicating, Lucifer is a more streamlined attempt at pure sensation. Stripping back and opening up, the submersive rhythm of tracks like ‘Dream Beat’ and ‘Cosmic Tides’ flow through clearer sonic waters. Dunis’ spacey vocals are brought out from beneath a blanket of extraneous noise in ‘Live Love’, while a skittering melody skips and bobs throughout it; part of a repeated cyclic motif repeated throughout the album.
Because not only does Lucifer greet a new night with the jangling ritual bell-ringing of ‘Moonrise’, exemplifying new phase in the Peaking Lights’ life and career, but its rhythmic line tends to flow in and out synchronicity as a musical tribute to those polar forces that not only created this band but the baby that binds it together. One-year-old son Mikko’s cooing vocals appear in the reggae melee of ‘LO HI’, while his very existence features strongly as a theme, both literally and figuratively, in tracks like the pun-loving lyrics of ‘Beautiful Son’. That track probably comes as close to the life and love-affirming balladry of 2011 standout ‘All the Sun That Shines’; a tuneful piano thrust set to chill wave ambience. Barely reaching a minute-and-a-half, ‘Morning Star’ ends off the album with an almost poignant beauty lurching among distorted, rewound and contorted samples before diffusing into nothing. It’s as if, like the seemingly sinister album title that reveals a contrastingly hopeful astrological symbolism, Lucifer recognises the infinite possibilities of the universe and reaches for its endless capacity for joy.
Peaking Lights’ Lucifer is out on Mexican Summer/ Weird World June 18th, 2012.