Lightspeed Champion, ‘Life Is Sweet! Nice To Meet You’ – First Listen

Dev Hynes eh, what manner of pop will tumble out of his mouth next? Just before the release of debut ‘Falling Off The Lavender Bridge’, he talked of planning a “radio friendly rock follow-up with synths”.

Well there’s a fair amount of the ol’ key-age on ‘Life Is Sweet! Nice To Meet You’ that’s for sure, and it’s ridiculously catchy, but really it’s a complete musical bolt from the blue, and nothing like any of us could have predicted.

‘Marlene’ is the first track to be taken from the record (single out January 25th, album to follow February 1st) and gives us a sneaky peek of what to expect:

Speaking about his latest foray into chamber pop, Hynes also mentioned a whole host of other side projects in the pipeline for 2010 including reams of classical scores, Todd Rundgren covers, French standard compilations and hip-hop records. But woah, hang on, let’s just focus on this one for a bit…

‘Dead Head Blues’
Dark foreboding riffs and minimal thumps make us think we’re in for a stripped down listen… until those huge piano chords kick in. Dev is back on top form vocally here, following some nasty throat surgery, as warm sumptuous instrumentation builds and builds, until a guitar solo screams out of nowhere, with Dev imploring, “Just let me meet this guy soon/He don’t appreciate you/I know you’ll realise that soon”. A heartbreak anthem, and then some.

Perhaps one of the first Hynes solo tracks you could actually attempt to dance to. It’s energetic and melodically euphoric and the boy Lightspeed really sounds like he’s having fun on this one as a huge chorus explodes backed by spiralling guitars. Extreme pop.

‘There’s Nothing Underwater’
Ukelele ahoy, but fear not there ain’t a Mumford in sight as strings and guitars surge, followed by clarinet and pianos. This is a gorgeous ballad and when Dev sings “every second that you run away/makes me miss you more and more/haven’t eaten for days and days…” you literally want to mop his tears, wrap him in blankets and feed him pie.

The first of two instrumental, um, intermissions. This one is an incredibly simple and playful little keyboard ditty flanked by acoustic guitar pluckings.

‘Faculty Of Fears’
When people described LC’s new music to us as HUGE, this is what they meant right here. ‘Faculty Of Fears’ is an undeniable highlight of ‘Life Is Sweet…’; a Pythagoras-referencing epic mixing string flourishes, pizzicato and woozy guitar solos.

Dev cries out repeatedly, “And if your heart’s screaming take me home/Then hail a cab and please turn off your phone”, which should appeal to every screw-up who’s longed for bed and hugs after a disastrously messy night out. “Don’t you feel better staying in on your own?” he then asks. Yes Dev, yes we do…

‘The Big Guns Of Highsmith’
The track that proves there’s been quite a bit of Chopin-loving since we last heard from Mr Hynes. ‘The Big Guns Of Highsmith’ trills into life with a pretty piano intro and soon hits sublime town as references to Chelsea teas and Socrates combine with feet stomping rhythms and an awesome all-male chorus who repeatedly encourage Dev to stop complaining as he sings of feeling sad and dreaming of “the girl”. Then there’s a strange synth electronic breakdown( very Rundgren), and is that a harp in there too? We would NOT be surprised. Utter genius.

Now if you’re not already crushing on Dev (big glasses, silly hat, geeky threads and tattoos – what’s not to love?) you will be by the end of ‘Romart’. This is a rather lovely romantic ballad, complete with xylophone, which finds the singer talking of finding happiness with his sweetheart. “Dalston Lane seems grey/I’ve spent all my coins/I’m down to my loins/so I’ve run away to a happy ending/and a girl who won’t sin”. Gorgeous.

‘I Don’t Want To Wake Up Alone’
Yet another corker; sometimes I listen to this extra loud and it literally makes me feel sick with joy. Do ever get that? No? Oh ok…So soaring strings abound here alongside pianos and divine harmonies as Dev pleads, “If you love me/if you want me/don’t ignore me cos I don’t want to wake up alone” and the all-male choir take the infectious track to a powerful, thundering climax. It’s like some sort of indie aria or something and is totally magical.

‘Madame Van Damme’
After all the intense drama and emotion leading up to this point, it’s quite a relief to find the perfect little pop nugget that is ‘Madame Van Damme’. Gritty guitars slide, beats pulse and then LC goes and asks his baby to kill him in the chorus. Basically this track reminds us that if you want straightforward traditional songwriting you’re looking in the wrong place.

‘Smooth Day (At The Library)’
A sweetly-sung ballad based around twanging acoustic guitar and piano with the odd touch of pizzicato strings. ‘Smooth Day (At The Library)’ is laid-back and almost soulful with Dev sounding again like he needs a big cuddle. Form an orderly queue, boys and girls.

‘Intermission 2’
Does what you’d expect: a tiny musical interlude with bashed percussion.

A country stomper which builds and builds to a dramatic climax as pianos plink and plonk, bells rattle, Dev roars and guitars howl. It’s a love song again and perhaps the most grown-up thing Lightspeed Champion has ever done.

‘Etude Op.3 “Goodnight Michalek”
(Nicole) Michalek is Lightspeed Champion’s current ladyfriend and this obviously classical-inspired track shows just how far he has advanced musically since we last heard from him. It’s rendered simply on piano and will have you dreaming of a Dev Hynes-penned musical or opera (Would. Be. Awesome).

‘Middle Of The Dark’
Quite a departure from all the orchestral elements that make up the majority of ‘Life Is Sweet…’, this track starts like an eerie film score as woozy electronics and pounding drums take it deep into space rock, and yes again, Rundgren territory. Suddenly it stops and a piano and male chorus appear followed by a bunch of squealing guitars; ‘Middle Of The Dark’ is very disjointed with musical bits and bobs cropping up all over the shop but somehow it works. Beautifully. What a way to end your second opus.

‘A Bridge And A Goodbye’
Sweet closer complete with pulsing bassline, beats, keyboards and guitar, and oh what a journey we have been on. Instrumental intermissions, piano etudes, space rock, chamber pop, this is super-assured.