Peaking Lights: Playing on Prefix

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Playing on Prefix is a feature on KCRW’s Music Blog in which writers from the eclectic music site Prefix hip you to what’s coming out of their computer speakers each week:

Not Not Fun became one of one of the most exciting labels out there. Once a strictly experimental label, perhaps most famously the one-time home of droners Pocahaunted (out of the ashes would later rise the decidedly non-drone Best Coast), L.A.’s Not Not Fun now releases some of the freakiest lo-fi dance music around.

When a Not Not Fun act combines the label’s new, dancier tendencies with its older experimental ones, they can end up with something truly special, such as the album “936” by Wisconsin duo Peaking Lights.
Peaking Lights’ modus operandi is at once straightforward and completely genius: they’ve managed to make sedate chill-out music that’s genuinely gripping.

Their work is one part Kraftwerk, one part Lee “Scratch” Perry, one part opiate haze. Keys drift in and out seemingly at random, while fuzzy bass and sunny guitars converse in a language all their own. Vocalist Indra Dunis offers flat, unaffected vocals that in tone recall Siouxsie Sioux—though not in energy level. This is brain-swaddling music, headphone-pop of the highest order.

All but two of the tracks on “936” are upwards of five minutes, and most are closer to the seven-minute mark—full of brevity this album is not.

Still, the best songs on this disc are the longer ones, where the music has time to stretch out and evolve, melodies and instrumentations drifting in and out of the songs’ inherent haze, seemingly of their own volition.

All The Sun That Shines by Peaking Lights

“All The Sun That Shines”, an immediate highlight, rides an intermittently galloping Spaghetti Western guitar line that slowly dubs out into budget-Balearic bliss. Meanwhile, “Bird Of Paradise (Dub Version)” shows initial hints of aggression but quickly demurs due to Dunis’s phlegmatic vocal lines, often resembling chants more than conventional lyrics. In a way, Dunis’s free-associative chants remind me of VVAQRT, the arch-danceable North Carolina duo whose broken, frantic approach to dance music is like what would happen if you gave Peaking Lights a handful of speed.

Hey Sparrow by Peaking Lights

When things on “936” are shorter, as they are on “Hey Sparrow”, they become more approachable, with inviting guitar work and lyrics that add up to a actual, real-life song—no chorus, but you take what you can get—and it’s a lovely one at that, full of sensual emotion and quiet drama that wouldn’t be found out of place at the end of some sort of tragicomic coming-of-age indie film.

In fact, there’s something starkly cinematic about all of these songs, not in the way of, say, a Vampire Weekend, whose songs and imagery are practically torn from the Wes Anderson school of aesthetics, but instead, “936” resembles a film in and of itself.

Forget “936” being the soundtrack to your next high: this album is your next high.

— by Drew Millard