I’ve really really really really really been digging 936, the new Peaking Lights album. To describe an album as a “stew” is such a shitty music crit cliche but I’m fighting a strong urge to employ it to describe this record. Because, really, that’s what 936 is, a steaming, humid pot of stick-to-your-ribs ingredients simmered long and slow until everything blends together into something appetizing, inviting, and of a piece. And yeah, it’s fucking delicious and it tastes better the next day. What about it?
About those ingredients: There’s dubby production (and I mean dubby as in, echoing guitar stabs, rivers of deep, burbling bass, and cavernous expanses of dark, sultry space, not dubby as in “reverb”), muffled and clattering percussion like a robotic drumkit breaking down, perfectly artless female coos, spiraling and arcing sound effects without origin, and trebly wefting keyboards. On 936, Peaking Lights combine carefully measured, varying quantities of each of these and make some seriously circular and ever-deepening musical hypnosis. This album is one of the more engrossing, replayable things I’ve heard come out in quite a while.
Though 936 is Peaking Lights’s best foray into immersive psychedelic wormhole-construction, it’s not their first. Their previous album, 2009’s Imaginary Falcons, was a nearly great record that fell just short in a couple areas. For one, the rich, syrupy low-end that keeps nearly every song on 936 anchored in the sublime is nowhere to be found, and it’s sorely missed. Instead of riding supple, sweltering grooves, songs (tracks?) on Imaginary Falcons float in a helium’d aether. They’re incredibly, almost disorientingly trippy. And as much as I’m into disorientingly trippy, the bass backbone on 936 is welcome. The results range from the simply addictive (as on “All the Sun that Shines” to the positively time-warping (which the transformative “Birds of Paradise Dub Version” most certainly is).
Peaking Lights has also shown an increased interest in actual legitimate songwriting on 936. Though it’s obvious that the duo is still totally in love with getting lost in the aural possibilities available to them, it’s no longer enough for them to suture a handful of otherworldly sonic elements together and let it ride for a few minutes (not that that approach is necessarily bad). No, now melodies (or at least grooves) are of preeminent importance, with assorted intergalactic and subterranean sounds providing (welcome) filligree. That means we get songs (songs!) like the gorgeously sweet and totally unexpected “Key Sparrow,” an adorably lilting melody that is at once soaring and small-screen, bleary and sparkling.
I’ll be honest: “Key Sparrow” is, really, the whole reason why I wanted to write this thing. It’s new love and dreaming and nostalgia and warmth and flitting surges of hope and sadness wrapped into a perfect four-minute package. I don’t think I’ve been as desperately in love with a song all year. It’s beautiful and small and it secrets away an infinitude of fine-grained emotions in it.