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Light Pollution – Apparitions

on May 26, 2010, 7:59am

Nothing about Chicago’s Light Pollution or their debut album Apparitions is a misnomer. Analytically, the phrase Light Pollution expresses a somewhat peaceful phenomenon, because “light”, a word of purity, cushions the less agreeable word that follows. Likewise, Light Pollution’s sound is definitely polluted with all sorts things, but rather deliberately and meticulously so. It is an immense blend of happy-go-lucky haze, danceable crunch, and incessant pop melody, one that makes the idea of pollution sound attractive, much like the phrase they’ve chosen for their name. They’ve flooded each track on their debut with layers of echoed, rhythmically dissonant, electro fluttering, finger-licking-good noise. In combination with their sound, the group’s name paints “light pollution” as a desirable abstract, something you want your night skies to embrace. It doesn’t bother you that all the stars are drowned out by the noise and the light. With a debut like this, Light Pollution is somewhat of an apparition in and of itself.

Though Light Pollution’s sound feels like chief songwriter James Michael Cicero ran through a checklist of independent music’s top acts over the past few decades, pinned each respective style down to a T, and pushed the blend button, it’s so well executed that there’s no real issue. Elements of shoegaze, the once fawned over freak-folk (oh no, taboo genre alert!), electronica, noise, dance, tribal, and even angst-ridden rock, all lend themselves to Light Pollution’s sound. Sure, it’s derivative, chiefly indebted to Animal Collective, and comparable to the likes of Yeasayer, Annuals, Au, Grizzly Bear, Deerhunter, Menomena, etc, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t worthwhile. It also doesn’t mean that it isn’t fun.

“Fever Dreams” is probably the best example of what it is Light Pollution does. Cicero sounds like a dead ringer for any of Menomena’s three vocalists, as his angsty howl floats atop catchy organ synth, mathy guitar licks, and crashing drums.  Already, they sound like a comprehensive blend of every genre in the book. Then the track sinks into a trench of fuzz, obliterated into a warped, chaotic ghost of its former self, drowning in dissonance. Feels-y Animal Collective-esque string swirls and echoed coos wrap around every edge, harmonizing with one another in dreamy bliss.

Sure, it doesn’t beat the originals, but what separates Light Pollution from their piggybacking contemporaries is their ability to elaborate on their influences, instead of just rehashing. They ensure that they add something else into the mix instead of just recycling one of their influences’ sounds: the mathy guitar licks that find themselves alongside psych-folk excursions, a screeching guitar solo that accompanies a wandering vocal, a more emotive singing style, etc.

Let’s look at Animal Collective’s influence on the indie scene as an example of what I am talking about. When I first heard Do Dos, for instance, I thought they were a rather blatant, though excellent, take on Animal Collective’s folk dimension. Similarly, Yeasayer’s Odd Blood seemed to be a failed attempt at the Collective’s electro leanings. Somehow, Light Pollution appears to effectively capture all of their influences’ styles, including Animal Collective, add in a bit of their own flavor, and retain a cohesiveness that doesn’t really make sense given the enormous palette.

But even with Light Pollution’s tendency to blend its own ingredients to the well-established mix, these songs are not new in any sense.  A run through of each track proves it. “Good Feelings” is a pounding Yeasayer-esque psych-disco banger turned Animal Collective noise exercise. “Deyci, Right On” is Grizzly Bear on a heavy dose of Sung Tongs. “Bad Vibes”, again, sounds like Strawberry Jam. “Witchcraft” is essentially a crunchier, cloudier “Two Weeks” (Honestly, try me. It even ends with almost the exact same wordless crooning). Well, you get the point.

But regardless of the very obvious nods to their influences, these are great songs. They stand on their own, even if they aren’t the freshest. There’s something pleasant in how happy and fun these tracks are, in spite of the debts they owe. These songs may not be anything novel, but they are feel-good and multi-faceted in their derivativeness. Some bands just sound like deficient carbon copies of their influences, but Light Pollution is a perfect example of how to properly bake ‘em all up.

Apparitions is all your favorite childhood toys in one, without really losing much of what made each one special on its own. It can’t replace the novelty and excitement that came with each new discovery, but it can remind you of all of those feelings at once. It’s a lighthearted, pleasant, well-sequenced look at the current state of the genre and how it came to be this way. Maybe that’s why Apparitions is so fun to listen to. These guys must know they’re paying homage to their influences, but they’re having a good time doing it. They don’t imitate, but appreciatively emulate. In this way, Light Pollution’s debut is an Apparition in the sense that somebody finally pulled off doing justice to the most recent generation of indie acts instead of simply trying to fit in with the trends.

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