The Wisconsin husband and wife duo of Aaron Coyes and Indra Dunis had one of the surprise word of mouth successes of last year with 936, leading to a deal with Domino subsidiary Weird World in the UK. Seemingly restless, their second album has arrived with unusual haste. Although its title might suggest some sort of deep examination of evil and temptation, it’s perhaps the bold blues and white of the cover image that give more indication of Lucifer’s sound and style. It’s a more immediate and accessible record than 936. Any experiments with noise or abstraction have been further toned down, and even the group’s trademark dubby basslines seem subsumed within a softer mood.
Many of the by now familiar elements of the Peaking Lights sound remain intact. The basslines are still there, and there’s still a surreal, hazy feel that recalls other contemporaries such as High Places or Pocahaunted. The retro beats are a major characteristic feature too – many of them hint back at early use of drum machines from acts such as Sly And The Family Stone and would not sound out of place on the outstanding recent electro-soul compilation Personal Space. The duo’s music remains determinedly minimal and skeletal. It would be tempting to question whether some of the ideas might have been left unfinished, were this strange sense not such a fundamental part of the Peaking Lights approach.
Yet there also seems to be a greater simplicity and directness here, along with a much stronger emphasis on memorable riffs and hooks. There is every sign that all this could combine to bring the band to a wider audience. Preview track Beautiful Son even sounds like a peculiar, blissed-out psychedelic take on Len’s briefly unavoidable 1999 smash hit Steal My Sunshine. Its every bit as summery and infectious, just with a weirder, dreamier atmosphere. Much of the album feels like a sleepy, hallucinogenic take on club music.
Whereas 936 found the duo interested in a range of textures and effects, the near constant burbling on Lucifer creates a more consistently aquatic sensation. The first part of the album feels smooth, relaxed and coherent, sometimes even quite pretty, with Dunis’ voice closer to the forefront and less buried in sound. It is also a good deal more conventional and less otherworldly than much of 936, its impact deriving more from high frequency sounds and basic keyboard parts that sit right in the foreground of the mix.
Later on, things get a little dirtier, to great effect. Midnight (In The Valley of the Shadows) seems both the most distinctive and compelling thing here, slow and seductive but with a slight undertow of danger and confrontation. Lo Hi might be the album’s sonically confusing and disorientating moment, Dunis’ voice at last merging with a range of unnerving and abrasive sounds.
Dream Beat perhaps best encapsulates the album’s message – a repetitive, insidious chant that works as the track’s central hook, and a backing track that succeeds in sounding both minimalist and texturally full. Once again, Peaking Lights’ music is slow to reveal itself and unfolds gracefully, at its own pace. But there’s enough clarity and melody here to suggest that Peaking Lights might yet light the world.