Hearts of Animals' Cave Lights, the second release for ArtStorm records — yes, another fledgling local label — constructs another level of frontwoman/sole proprietor Mlee Suprean's icy fortress of solitude. Like HOA's 2007 single "Stars Say No," Cave Lights traffics in pinballing high-frequency sounds, layered artificial percussion and fragile vocal melodies that draw on the Cocteau Twins and other 4AD bands of the mid-to-late '80s. However, the first two tracks, "Maybe Maybe Maybe" and "The Next Day," are much less structured and guitar-oriented than Suprean's previous work, instead consisting of fractured echo chambers where tones coalesce and dissolve around ethereal themes. The rest of the album is more conventional, at least for HOA — Suprean forgoes some of her weirdest noises, but shows no signs of tempering the heavy delay that gives her music its kaleidoscopic quality. It makes her songs deceptively dense, adding extra layers to simple, pretty tunes like "Sister Stories," and allows her to blend a mournful accordion smoothly into the sorrowful electro-pop of "Sit Right Here." HOA's music is surprisingly sad, both harmonically and lyrically. Even the two instrumentals are minor-key, including the stunning untitled saxophone ensemble that closes the album. Cave Lights touches repeatedly on themes of departure and withdrawal into unreality, creating a fantasy which provides no escape — only crippled isolation dressed up in distracting colors, like sparkling lights in a dead-end cave.
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