The “weirder” strands of pop music have been making quite the impact lately, with the rise of omnivorous work by artists like Grimes, Elite Gymnastics, Tonstartssbandht, Doldrums, Gatekeeper, and Unicorn Kid. The so-called weirdness often manifests itself in an aesthetic sensibility rather than a musical one, which has resulted in our highly heterogeneous sonic landscape. Yet most of this work is being crafted by artists with shared inspiration from the frenetic digital culture they’ve been the first to grow up with. But what of the similarly warped work from those who grew up with a completely different set of influences and signifiers? Mind you, warped pop sensibilities shaped by earlier decades formed the bulk of “chillwave,” which burned out its flame a while ago. But the music Indra Dunis and Aaron Coyes craft as Peaking Lights is difficult enough to pin down for their new album, Lucifer, to feel substantial and lasting. While their Instagram feed, superb mixtapes, and penchant for drum machines and synths suggest a strong attachment to some bygone era, they channel that nostalgia into something tactile and radiant.
And radiance is a good look for Peaking Lights. Written in the afterglow of their son’s birth, Lucifer — Latin for “morning light” or “light-bearer” — is an unabashedly blissed-out affair, composed of expansive dub grooves and enough good vibes to fill an entire summer. Whereas 936 dealt in borderline-claustrophobic haziness, Lucifer is clear-headed and straightforwardly melodic. Parenthood seems to have anchored the duo musically. This newly precise focus livens the proceedings considerably and allows Dunis’ vocal delivery to sound lush rather than aloof. “Live Love” in particular benefits from this, its slinky bassline unfolding teasingly across the song’s seven minutes of dripping keyboards and characteristically chintzy drum machines; it’s easily the sultriest number Dunis and Coyes have done. Elsewhere, they create incandescent odes to their child (“Beautiful Son”) and build an addicting track out of simple two-note figures and lyrical mantras (“Midnight (in the valley of shadows)”). Occasionally, they introduce a truly unexpected sound into the mix; the flute that enters halfway through “LO HI” is both jolting and brilliantly placed.
But the real kicker here is “Cosmic Tides,” which opens with a red herring — a distinctly sludgy bass crawl that suggests some of the murkier material from 936 — and proceeds to turn into one of the most gorgeously ethereal tracks of the year so far. The beat stumbles on itself, the synths drift skyward, and Dunis rides the appropriately spacey wave effortlessly. She sounds utterly at ease while the music shifts below her, never entirely sure-footed. One of the song’s great joys is its final two minutes, in which we hear various synth chords trying to rhythmically reconcile. Here and elsewhere on Lucifer, Dunis and Coyes get impressive mileage out of their cleaner production palette. This stuff is still resolutely analog, but there’s a clarity to the beats that wasn’t found in earlier recordings, and consequently the space between inevitably deep bass and deceptively casual keyboard grooves is more pronounced. Often, such palpable distance is the root of a general unease, but Peaking Lights aren’t interested in such moods. For them, the space is an opportunity to invite listeners in on affectionate intimacy, whether that means hearing the young Mikko gurgling away happily on “LO HI” or listening to Dunis croon sweet nothings on the irrepressibly groovy “Dreambeat.” So go on ahead, open the curtains: It’s getting light outside.