Fulton Lights Fulton Lights

[Android Eats; 2007]

Rating: 1.5/5

Styles:  trip-hop
Others: Burial, Hood, Massive Attack

If nothing else, Fulton Lights sure does know what it wants to be: a poignant and visceral document of post-millennial urban disillusionment/alienation/ennui. This is thematic ground that’s already been tread ad nauseam, and while I wouldn’t say pulling it off today is an impossible feat, it’s one that requires considerably more than is offered by this record.

Fulton Lights is the project of Andrew Spencer Goldman, whose other involvements include John Guilt and Maestro Echoplex. His vocals, piano, and guitar on this debut are accompanied primarily by dälek’s Oktopus and Still, who infuse the atmosphere with sample-beat noir, and a small team of other players providing the occasional string backing. The blueprints they’re working from are pretty simple once you catch on, which doesn’t take long: first, establish an urban setting with those hip-hop drum samples; then, sprinkle some abstract, metallic groaning noises, hums, hisses, and guitar squiggles and squelches in the background, which will represent confusion and existential anguish; finally, fill things out with violins and cellos and piano, as evidence of the record’s emotional earnestness. Stir until trite.

Sounds harmless enough, but the real, irrevocable failure of Fulton Lights are the lyrics, which resemble the worst poetry slam material you can imagine: “That’s the sound of the city that never shuts up/ That’s the pound of the subway cars/ That’s the metal screeching like tortured souls.” I wish I could say the clumsy explicitness of this simile is an exception, but everything else is very much the same. In fact, it’s difficult to believe these lyrics weren’t birthed as poetry, independent of the music; their delivery is entirely arbitrary, with vocal cadences that are irrelevant to the lyrical content and melodies that sound ad-libbed and forced around existing syllables.

In addition to being musically poor, the album is even unconvincing in its sentiment. It’s packaged in photos of urban nightscapes that, almost impressively, convey absolutely nothing. Even the American flag you can spot draped over a fence manages to remain utterly silent, such that you can’t even be sure its inclusion was intentional (although it probably was: “And you can’t believe everything you see/ Like White House press conferences/ About freedom and about democracy”). One can only assume that these photos are supposed to be “bleak,” or something, but instead they’re neutral, valueless.

“Fire in the Palm of My Hand” is at once the best and worst track here, in that it’s likely to be a favorite of anybody who enjoys this album, but its emotional techniques are insultingly cheap. Listening to the piano- and upright-bass-driven ballad evokes snow falling on the love interests of some ABC drama. Which, sadly, implies that few people if any will truly ‘relate’ to this album in the way they’re intended to. It might, if it’s lucky, strike a chord with those affluent urban Gen-Xers who are drawn to the romance of this brand of despair, using it to soundtrack a dinner party where they and their friends drink wine in a dim-lit kitchen and complain about the Bush administration.

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