We haven't seen the Live Lights perform live, so bear that in mind. Whenever we mentioned that we were going to review the band's recently released five-song EP of synth-heavy rock that's all anyone said to us: "Have you seen them live? Dude, you've got to see them. They're incredible." We haven't. Two is all we have to go on.
If Marilyn Manson had been mentored by VNV Nation's Ronan Harris instead of Trent Reznor, this might've been the album that would've come out. The band is carried along on the airy synths of Bryan Higginbotham, amply backed by the full, throbbing guitar and bass work of Martin Rios and Adam Khatib respectively. The songs leave no space left in the ear canal. Even their bridges and breakdowns register very much in the red.
"We try to bring our live sound to the recordings as much as possible," said Rios via email. "We want the songs to sound big, dynamic, and in your face. We also typically record in a 100ft long cave to get those natural reverberations. Ha ha"
We can certainly see the appeal of what they do. Higginbotham's voice has that aching quality that made us make the Manson comparison, but without the sinister undertone. The result is more emo than rock, but still fantastic for all that. His synth lines range from incidental to magnificent, especially in the "The Space Between." The track is the obvious gem on the album, full of the same cheesy, addictive pop-vibe that makes Lady Gaga's "Edge of Glory" a song you can't turn off. It strives for an epic, video game energy and manages more or less to pull it off.
And yet... we wonder if our colleagues who have so been so taken with the band live aren't blinded a bit by the smoke and mirrors.
Obviously The Live Lights brings an inexhaustible dynamic to their work. There is no way to half-ass the juggernaut of rock and electronica that they do. It's clear that their hearts beat like strobe-lights, but there remains a curious emptiness to the songs that make us question the foundation this crystal palace is based on.
Formulaic is a good way to describe the record, with slightly redundant being a harsher term. Live Lights rarely ventures from a very simplistic song structure, which while poppy and easy to like does leave a listener wanting for more varied fare. Higginbotham's voice may be good enough to bury him under a mountain of panties on-stage, but the lyrical content is somewhat bland.
Case in point, time seems to be a recurring lyrical theme on the album. It opens with a song called "18 Weeks," a bizarrely specific span. Mixed with the broke-hearted cries and John Cusack in the rain-style romantic declarations it had us repeatedly listening to the song for its hidden meaning. This was difficult as the sound mixing often seems to be deliberately rounding the edges of the vocals in order to make them seem less distinct and understandable. As was the response we got when we asked about some of the inspirations behind the songs.
"Deceipt, love, second chances, complete breakdowns, caffeine, passion, pleasure, and everything in between," said Rios. "We tend to write about things we have experienced, a certain time and circumstance in our existence. Last chances and new beginnings. Life as we know it in a documented self reflecting timeline of sorts if you will."
Maybe we're expecting a bit too much. After all, The Live Lights have gotten where they are by dazzling everyone with their personal flair in front of an audience. It puts them in the same company as AC/DC, KISS, and other bands that aren't spelled with all-caps. Two is an attempt to translate that flair into an audio recording, and even though the record is perfectly pleasurable and catchier than the flu, it's somewhat two-dimensional.
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Live Lights is working towards their first full-length album. We hope that they use this opportunity to explore the recording process a bit more. They need to take their light deeper if they're going to find their real treasure.
One thing we can say with unabashed admiration, they know how to make a damned good music video. We wouldn't be at all surprised if "Highs of Low" ended up on our best music-video list this year.
Two is available on iTunes.