Peaking Lights’ last studio album, 2012’s Lucifer, was a slow, dense and foggy collection of eight tracks, two thirds of which passed the six-minute mark. A remix album – Lucifer In Dub – was released later that year, but it felt entirely unnecessary: the source material already sounded like a 21st-century take on the work of dub maestros King Tubby and Mad Professor.
In the meantime, the Los Angeles-based husband-and-wife duo proved to be highly adept remixers themselves on their stellar version of Young Galaxy’s Pretty Boy: instead of burying the original under echo-plex effects and clattering percussion, they burnished it to a bright, pristine sheen.
Now comes Lucifer’s proper follow-up, Cosmic Logic. Produced with the help of DFA cohort Matt Thornley, it takes its cues from that Young Galaxy remix. It reveals a new version of Peaking Lights: clear-eyed rather than stoned, concise rather than sprawling, and unafraid of choruses. Tracks such as Telephone Call, Little Light, Dreamquest retain the skanking rhythms of Lucifer, but replace that album’s murky textures with bright keyboards, precise drumbeats and crystalline clarity.
The band’s Aaron Coyes says, “Peaking Lights’ whole thing has always been based on an idea of ‘Fucked Modern Pop’ but exactly what that is, we don’t know.” Much of Cosmic Logic is indisputably pop, and only a little fucked. Opener Infinite Trips sounds like Peaking Lights’ take on the bubblegum indie of Last Splash-era Breeders; Hypnotic Hustle and Breakdown boast hooks of boundless catchiness, while New Grrrls is, simply, a blast. With songs as strong and as instantly appealing as these, it’s easy to see Peaking Lights attracting a whole new audience who would have been entirely immune to Lucifer’s druggy charms.
That said, Indra Dunis’s vocals might prove a sticking point. At times she sounds similar to DFA Records’ stalwart Nancy Whang: an alternately stern and goofy sing-speak that can seem a little stiff when held up against the music’s new-found limberness.
As for the words Dunis is delivering, these tend to pass by in a haze of references to space travel, visions, colours and the like. There is one notable anomaly in the form of New Grrrls, which doubles as a potted musical autobiography (“Took up drums but all I heard was / ‘She’s so good, for a girl’”) and a paean to the female musicians who inspired Dunis, replete with shout-outs to Joan Jett, Kim Gordon, Yoko Ono and Kathleen Hanna.
Peaking Lights’ transformation into a pop band is a successful one, but it might have come at the cost of their singularity. There are occasions on Cosmic Logic – on, for instance, the crisp disco of Everyone And Us – when they sound interchangeable with any number of bands existing under the ‘dream pop’ banner: Purity Ring, Woman’s Hour, Mr Twin Sister and their remix beneficiaries Young Galaxy to name but four. In addition, Lucifer’s fans might bemoan the band’s decision not to explore further the crossover between dub, indie rock and synth pop.
Everyone else can celebrate Peaking Lights’ decision to target the feet, rather than the minds, of the listeners this time round. Their reward is one of the year’s most intuitively entertaining releases.