|Photo by Nate Burrell
Speakers Rating: 90/100
It doesn’t take long to gather from the album art of the latest Old Lights EP, Like Strangers, that we’re treading into some disturbing territory here. Oh yes, love is a many splendored/splintered thing, and the six-song collection from the Saint Louis foursome isn’t afraid to delve into the – to put it delicately – intricacies of the oft-fucked up nature of matters of the heart. And, thankfully, it makes absolutely no apologies in doing so.
Each song tells another chapter in the story of two lovers trying to pump life into a faltering relationship, a perfect theme for Old Lights’ signature “pop music with a dark side.” So, with the intention of explicating this unsettling saga in the order in which it was meant, let’s go track by track, shall we?
“It Was You” – Here begins the fizzle. And the hand claps. With a freakishly catchy chorus (“I ain’t singin’ Hallelujah any more…”), “It Was You” points a brazen finger at who’s to blame for this relationship’s demise, but it’s easy to question the narrator’s reliability on this opening shiner.
“Cryin Eyes” – Track number two reveals the transgressions that get those eyes a-cryin’. Yet, the repeated line, “still I can’t love you more than I do now,” hints at a high tolerance for pain; sins make lovers feel like strangers, but love can obscure the most grievous of offenses. At the 1:53 mark, the track glows with a gospel halo. This take-’em-to-church moment concludes with the spoken lyrics: “We are not evil/ we are just people.” Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us?
“Wilder Honey” – The vocals in “Wilder Honey” (perhaps a slight nod to The Beach Boys’ Wilder Honey, a frequently cited touchstone for Old Lights) are performed by the band’s lead singer David Beeman and guest vocalist, Kristin Dennis. The two trade verses and perspectives against rollicking piano, defending their intentions (“I wasn’t looking for wilder honey…”) and reminding us of the damning injuries we knowingly inflict on those we love. The song ends with an ambiguously hopeful question: “After so much damage done, can our two hearts still find love?”
“All Noise” – Fuzzed out from the get go, “All Noise” sounds like the tug-of-war of goodbyes. It references injuries, shivers, wasted time, and it all comes to a close with a gorgeous racket of distortion, an alien invasion, the musical equivalent of the brain’s fogginess when attempting to control passions with logic.
“Loud Song” – An otherworldly tribute to infinite love, “Loud Song” sounds like the sequel to “All Noise,” as it transitions seamlessly from the previous track’s electro outro. The artful noise is still present, but here Beeman’s vocals morph into chanting echoes, pledging devotion through space and time. You know, there’s this saying about absence and the heart growing fonder…
“Death Came” – The finale is an acoustic dirge that faintly recalls the “Juliet’s Dead But Not Really Dead” bedroom scene from Shakespeare’s tale of ill-fated lovers. Lyrically, “Death Came” is just beautiful, replete with vividly charged couplets such as “I had epileptic seizures running through my tongue and mouth/ So she never understood what I was talking about…” Guitars from beyond the grave take us to the ending promise: “I’m gonna love you/ hope you love me ’til the end…”
Like Strangers ends with the most romantic notion of all: true love has no stops and starts. The continuity sure makes for complications, but it’s a cautious reminder that hearts don’t just turn off simply because we want them to.
Be sure to tell Old Lights you’ll love them ’til the end TONIGHT at Off Broadway when the band celebrates the release of Like Strangers. Supporting the band is friends (and SIC faves) The Blind Eyes and Nathan Kalish and the Wildfire. Get your tickets here!