Over the nine years I’I’ve been directly involved in the local music scene, the Lights have remained the most consistently astonishing “local band” on my radar. Assumedly flying just below the national spotlight, they’they’ve released three stellar albums of discordant rock music that rock writers likely classify as “post-punk.” Minor chords? Check. A minimalistic approach that gives each part a chance to make a big impact? Check? Clamoring guitar and bass? Check.
2003’s Beautiful Bird cemented the band’s local cult status; EP Suge Night Sweetheart whet fans’ whistles while the band impressed at the 2005 SWSW festival in Austin before releasing the excellent 2006 full-length Diamonds & Dirt.
Which brings us to Failed Graves, the Lights’ latest 11-song slice of punk rock yumminess, which they will release tomorrow night at Seattle’s Funhouse.
The record is the best of the band’s three very good records, if only because it perfectly illustrates what makes the Lights’ music so compelling. It isn’t their ability to weave familiar influences in to a unique sound without sounding derivative (although that certainly helps; studied listeners will hear the Fall, Joy Division and Pavement references throughout), it’s their ability meld classic pop elements within their otherwise dissonant sonic approach. There’s a seemingly lazy, nervous energy that runs through Failed Graves, giving the listener the feeling that things could explode into chaos or slide in to a slick baseline and catchy guitar hook at any point.
There’s the “oooh ooohs” on “New New,” the record’s most accessible track, at least until it takes an abrupt turn in the middle and strips down to vocals and drums before singer Craig Chamber’s chorus of “lala la lalas” lead his noisy guitar back in to great effect.
Then there’s the slinky, spy-movie guitar line on “Gingerella.” The first time through it leads up to a big, multi-vocal chorus. The second time through it leads us just up to that same climax before ending the song with a couple of gentle “shhhhs.”
It’s hard to pick a favorite, but right now it’s the galloping beat of slinky, Spaghetti Western-ish “Puerto Escondido,” on which bass player Jeff Albertson takes one of two turns on lead vocals. He croons “I been drinking, I been drowning’ in my blood. I been sinking, I been tryin’ for your love” once through before Chambers comes in the second time, making great use of the pair singing together.
It isn’t until the final track that the Lights fully release the pent up anxiety Failed Graves creates. “Nervous Breakdown” starts subtle and mid tempo then crescendos to an explosive end as Chambers sings “I’m about to have a nervous breakdown. My head really hurts. I don’t care what you fuckin’ do. I don’t care what you fuckin say. I’m going crazy, and I just wanna die.”
It’s a glorious end to an extremely cathartic record. – (10/10)