Peaking Lights – ‘Lucifer’

Strange and seductive sounds

There is music out there bursting with rage of the personal and political nature, music that comes at you with savage speed and giant riffs, music that will gee you up to fling a Molotov cocktail into a police station or flick the Vs at your history teacher. You can listen to it tomorrow. First, make some room in your life for the delightful deep bath of a third album by Californian duo Peaking Lights.

‘Lucifer’ is their second album for Domino sub-label Weird World, and it finds them sounding increasingly individual. Considering that Peaking Lights’ previous blissful meanders through fields of dub, shoegaze and krautrock had very few modern comparison points, this feels like a mission accomplished. It feels more accomplished full stop, in fact.

Their 2011 album and breakout of sorts ‘936’ wore its rawness and lo-fi amateurism on its sleeve, as is sometimes the case with the Cali DIY underground from which the band sprung, but ‘Lucifer’’s eight songs are produced with due care and attention. Should you assume this equates to a soft-soaping of Peaking Lights’ aesthetic in an optimistic attempt to crack the mainstream, reconsider. Aaron Coyes and Indra Dunis pepper these tracks’ six- or seven-minute lifespans with subtly odd touches.

‘Beautiful Son’, for example, is at heart a thing of simple gorgeousness – a Laurel Canyon-style quasi-ballad for keyboard and minimal blues guitar – but in lieu of a ‘traditional’ rhythm track, a swirling procession of electronic chirps and scratches loops endlessly. Its title, we can assume, refers to Mikko Coyes, who was born to the duo last year (yep, they don’t just make music together, they make babies), and whose infant gurgles earn him a vocal credit on the echoey lope of recent single ‘Lo Hi’.

Peaking Lights’ generous application of dub techniques is arguably their strongest weapon, and they’ve wisely retained it throughout the bulk of ‘Lucifer’. While you can’t exactly imagine this album booming from a Jamaican sound system circa 1973, Coyes and Dunis have obviously immersed themselves in King Tubby, Scientist and other old analogue masters. ‘Cosmic Tides’ makes good with booming digital drums and dusty organ melodies – by contrast, Dunis’ guileless vocal makes the end product a deeply stoned cousin of Saint Etienne’s ‘Only Love Can
Break Your Heart’ cover.

For a group who enjoy the very modern luxury of ‘blog buzz’, it’s strange how Peaking Lights’ hybridism often feels transported from the early ’90s. If ‘Lucifer’ had been released then, there’s every chance that it would be lauded alongside ‘Screamadelica’ and the good end of The Orb’s catalogue. In a modern context, their creation of atmosphere through minimalism warrants investigation by fans of The xx, although they’re far from soundalikes. It’s more chillout room than chillwave, all dub and little step, and the better for all of that.

Noel Gardner