I think some time around 2013 we all got used to music getting infinitely poppier than the traditional vanguard has been, at least structurally speaking. As recently as 2009, we’d enjoyed as the veritable giants of the scene certain mavericks like Battles and Dirty Projectors, bands that would push their opuses out past the six-minute mark, would embed climaxes within unorthodox sections of songs, and such thing, whereas today, given what we’re witnessing outside of jazz, it’s hard to say if any bands are willing to take the chance on these unorthodoxies, given probably some lack of cooperation on the part of collective audiences.
So I’m writing this with a firm warning: Lightlessness is Nothing New is… well.. nothing new, in a way — we get the same poppy format of Passion Pit or Chvrches with probably just enough textural flair, the spliced and punchy hat eighths that open the album, the throaty industrial guitar stab, to send this thing into “listenable” territory.
In general, Lightlessness in Nothing New falls pretty readily into the overall blueprint the band has expressed in its 11 years of existence — busy, subtly sassy electro pop full of string and synth which are sort of biting in a childish type of way, as if you were to call a Dial-a-songs and say, “Gimme somethin’ with ATTITUDE.” It’s easy to believe that they call the big city of Chicago their origin as, in style and in mood, New York’s TV on the Radio would arguably the closest comparison point. Refreshingly, they veer less toward brooding and indulgent lyrics than the latter — in all honesty I usually can’t even make out the words that Dave Davison is singing, but unfortunately, this can sometimes be a good thing and it can take some pressure off the lyricist to build a house of cards. I mean, I don’t think we’ve ever heard Allen Ginsburgh at T.G.I. Friday’s, at least not yet.
“Ringing Bell” is more median Applebee’s shmear, “Violet Threaded” then giving us a precocious foray into… uh… Flamenco pop? Whatever it is, it’s composed of these real pastel, brief synths blips, I think I hear a mandolin, and most pleasingly, it’s funky with a deliberate and stately strut, very sure of itself in its angular quirk. Best of all, Davison’s chorus, which throws in a stout power-chord drapery on guitar, is anthemic in its earnest tenacity: “We might never find love / We might never find life here”. Anyway, on “Fog and the Fall,” the band’s attempt at pop/rock with live drums and less synth and string, Davison’s narrative yowl just isn’t quite guttural enough to sell it, lacking in the alpha male swagger of a James Mercer and a Jack White. Maps & Atlases is not a band without ideas but da** they’re just too NICE, for the time being, and too conventional to play the whole “damaged” card.