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Sweet Lights – Sweet Lights

on January 10, 2011, 7:59am

If you’ve ever been to London, you’ll know of a curious phenomenon. You wait for a bus for an unreasonable interval, and then mysteriously, four of them arrive at once. And so it is with albums. While I wait for a half-decent product from rock’s bloated establishment, redemption comes with a stream of excellent home produced/released records crossing my desk. The latest in a series reviewed here is the self-titled offering from Sweet Lights, a solo vehicle from Shai Halperin, aka Shai, Son of Eli, of Philadelphia’s The Capitol Years.

Halperin is an enigmatic individual. He maintains a curiously minimalist Blog and clearly has a thing about recalling his youth – from the young kid posing on the album cover to weirdly wonderful videos featuring him break-dancing as a teen. Sweet Lights has been around two and a half years in the making and comes across as a highly personal work with some assistance from producer Jeff Zeigler (War on Drugs, Kurt Vile). It’s delivered with tenderness and combines sounds from ’70s and ’80s rock encountered in Halperin’s youth, though not necessarily in real time. The Beatles are clearly high on the list, but you’ll also hear some Floyd, ELO, Beach Boys, and R.E.M. here and there in his song construction and delivery.

Sweet Lights is a collection of some very good songs and rarely misses its mark. Among the best are “You Won’t Be There” and “Are We Going To Work It Out”, and they can hardly be more different. The former is a tender tribute to John Lennon in which Halperin lovingly recreates the feel and mood of Double Fantasy with spacey double-tracked vocals and shimmering guitars. The song has a great melody built around some hallmark Lennon-like chord changes and enough repetition to sink in first time but never bore. There’s an accompanying video featuring vintage footage of the Liverpudlian legend and his muse, Yoko Ono, though frankly the song is sufficiently moving without the dressing.

“Are We Going To Work It Out” builds ominously like an army on the march before a sudden piano chord heralds a heartbeat and introduces fast tempo percussion, over which urgent vocals and precision guitar phrases cross over, glide and swoop in a glorious amalgam. This is a hit record in any universe but our present one. The album packs variety throughout, from the pure pop of “Endless Town”, which is interrupted by a impressively frantic piano solo, to the magical opus, “Red Lights” which could have come from the pen of Brian Wilson, such is its imaginative framework.

“Waterwell” provides a darker, more contemplative strain, while the plaintive opening to “Message On The Wire”, heightened by Halperin’s echoed vocals, scarcely prepares you for a chorus which leans heavily on snatches of melody from Pink Floyd’s Dark Side. Halperin’s lyrics are fairly oblique but fit the music so seamlessly that you tend to just let them drift over you. “Ballad of Kurt Vile #2” is a case in point, like troubadour meets soundscape in a glorious melange. The vocal mix is really something special and weaves in and out of the gorgeously picked guitar lines. The curious “Tell Us All About It” is only two lines long but announces a seismic closer in “Here Comes The Son”, which comes across as a homage to the best of The Beatles.

Anyone who loved The Capitol Years’ last studio album, Dance Away The Terror, which incidentally sounds as bright today as it did in 2006, will know that Shai Halperin is a gifted individual. Sweet Lights does not disappoint and deserves to propel the creator to bigger and better things. All he needs is the right universe.

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