Nothing about Chicagos 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 Pollutions 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 theyve chosen for their name. Theyve flooded each track on their debut with layers of echoed, rhythmically dissonant, electro fluttering, finger-licking-good noise. In combination with their sound, the groups name paints light pollution as a desirable abstract, something you want your night skies to embrace. It doesnt 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 Pollutions sound feels like chief songwriter James Michael Cicero ran through a checklist of independent musics top acts over the past few decades, pinned each respective style down to a T, and pushed the blend button, its so well executed that theres 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 Pollutions sound. Sure, its derivative, chiefly indebted to Animal Collective, and comparable to the likes of Yeasayer, Annuals, Au, Grizzly Bear, Deerhunter, Menomena, etc, but that doesnt mean it isnt worthwhile. It also doesnt mean that it isnt fun.
Fever Dreams is probably the best example of what it is Light Pollution does. Cicero sounds like a dead ringer for any of Menomenas 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 doesnt 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 Collectives folk dimension. Similarly, Yeasayers Odd Blood seemed to be a failed attempt at the Collectives 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 doesnt really make sense given the enormous palette.
But even with Light Pollutions 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. Theres 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 cant replace the novelty and excitement that came with each new discovery, but it can remind you of all of those feelings at once. Its a lighthearted, pleasant, well-sequenced look at the current state of the genre and how it came to be this way. Maybe thats why Apparitions is so fun to listen to. These guys must know theyre paying homage to their influences, but theyre having a good time doing it. They dont imitate, but appreciatively emulate. In this way, Light Pollutions 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.