About a year ago, this prog Brit rock band arrived in the States seemingly fully formed. They already had a little Lite-Brite-looking sign they took with them to gigs, which they would set on a table near the sign-up sheet for their mailing list and a bowl of complimentary Strangelight lollipops.
From such a cute setup one might assume they were an ironic indie band, but Strangelight doesn't do irony. One listen to lead singer Raman's full-throated shriek on "Bigger" shows clearly that this band cares less about striking a pose than it does about clear expression -- come what may.
It's a pretty dark world that Strangelight inhabits. This is no Sunday-morning record; this is wee-hours-by-candlelight stuff. The music itself seems to flicker and cast shadows, and at times Lux almost burns out, only to flare brighter than ever a few seconds later. It's in the arrangements: On no song are they predictable, and a few, like the psychedelic and downright scary "Fiction," and the jazzy and relatively cheery "Schizophrene," are pretty damn masterful. Unnerving minor chords march through one after another. Guitarist Bill Royall, a wailing yang to Raman's keening yin, often erupts from the shadows on these tunes with tastefully huge solos.
Raman's anguish-racked tenor sounds like that of some New Romantic born 20 years too late, and Strangelight's layered music swirls and whirls as much as any Talk Talk record ever did. But there is far too much of Royall's raw guitar on Lux to lump Strangelight in with the revivalist acts. They're also a little too Radioheadedly cosmic for such an earthbound genre: The cover art features an onion-domed Russian cathedral at the center of two planetary orbits, all of which are erupting from a single star in a wheeling nebula; the songs have a spacey feel that lives up to this fantasia.
Strangelight's sound is densely textured, sometimes too much so. A few synthesizer lines overpaint their pictures. But you won't even notice 'em until you've listened to Lux at least three times, and by that time you're hooked.
Special notice must also go to Lux's crisp production and the visual design of the CD package. Far too many locals cut corners on sound and art, but a band with its own freebie lollipops will not be one of them.
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