The past few years have been a boon for Not Not Fun, with major minor successes like Ducktails and Sun Araw undoubtedly exposing the label beyond its base. And simultaneously, in what seems like a positive feedback process, the label — and much of the L.A. scene that it documents — has moved in new directions, releasing more albums that feature more accessible structures and harmonies, tenuously maintaining the label’s past hallmarks of noise and damaged jamming.
936, the newest release from Peaking Lights, is no exception to the above trend. A band whose subsequent releases are a further refinement of its warped pop sensibilities, Peaking Lights as of late are meat and potatoes recent NNF. Constantly straddling the divide between structure and neo-psychdelic digressions, much of Peaking Lights’ discography threatens disequilibria. No other record in their catalog better stabilizes these conflicting tendencies than does 936.
A drum machine, and the dub connotations it carries, makes all the difference for 936. Each track has the uncanny ability to drift with Indra Dunis’ lazy, ethereal vocals, yet they still feel tight, despite the long playing times. A contradiction, “Tiger Eyes (Laid Back)” is as lackadaisical as the name suggests with its endless deadpan vocals, but the bass and drum machine inject enough activity to leave my feet uncertain over how active they ought to be. On “Birds of Paradise (Dub Version),” Dunis contorts in a refreshing, danceable fashion against a throbbing beat while Aaron Coyes’ guitar skirts aloft.
But while 936’s perpetual schizophrenia is noteworthy, it’s Peaking Lights’ songwriting that elevates 936. In fact, not since Pocahaunted’s Island Diamonds can I recall a Not Not Fun release as memorable as this one. While those tethered to NNF’s erstwhile aesthetics might find fault in the label’s current trajectory, 936’s charm is undeniable. Even the pop adverse (myself included) should marvel at Peaking Lights’ synthesis of disparate structures. Not only does this combination perfectly capture the label in 2011, but 936 is the strongest album the label has released in years.