Illiterate Light Sweet Beast

[Self-Released; 2019]

Styles: indie rock, new sincerity
Others: Wings, Portugal. The Man, Fleet Foxes

I don’t begrudge any band for aggrandizing their happiness, especially not a group as optimistic as Illiterate Light, who can wrap a decently upbeat melody around downer lyrics like: “I swear nothing’s fair and no one cares/ I’m giving up.” But ennui being the de rigueur subject matter for so many indie outfits, I find myself skeptical nonetheless. So when the Virginian rock duo tout that aforementioned lyric alongside plainspoken, if not affecting, affirmations like: “Every time that I think of you/ I feel better than I used to” or the non sequitur couplet: “Calculated confidence/ Try to stay strong,” I know they’re not being disingenuous, but I’m certain there’s something more complicated going on here.

On Sweet Beast, the debut EP by Illiterate Light, a group whose storied history would suggest a much larger discography after forming nearly four years earlier, Jeff Gorman and Jake Cochran vacillate between joy and pain, triumph and loss, at a frantic pace. If they’re not jumping from one emotion to the other at a song-by-song rate, as in the nosedive from the jubilant “Better Than I Used To” to the conflicted “Nuthin’s Fair,” they’re leaping line by line. (Take the refrain of “Two Cats” for example: “Right when you find your heart/ Your whole world falls apart.”).

But Illiterate Light’s greatest weakness is their reliance on vagueness: there are nods to normalized domestic bombings, a nondescript war, and even nuclear fallout, yet these references never move beyond sensationalism; they only feel like broad concepts deployed to evoke the largest possible emotional reaction. The band’s uptempo musicianship is the saving grace of the record, however. Although they’re probably doomed to be saddled with comparisons to The Black Keys and The White Stripes, Illiterate Light display a decent variety of influences that go far beyond the bluesy swagger of those two groups. In terms of identity, the band still have a ways to go before establishing a truly original voice. But Sweet Beast isn’t a bad start.

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