Light Pollution Apparitions

[Carpark; 2010]

Rating: 2.5/5

Styles: indie rock, atmospheric, textural
Others: Deerhunter, Animal Collective, All Natural Lemon & Lime Flavors

Chicago-based quartet Light Pollution and I share a home state in Illinois. It’s a prairie state, largely flat and heavily agricultural, whose landscape seems to impress more by its vacancy than by any more typically exciting natural wonder. It’s a landscape that can be easy to dismiss and to ignore, but it can be strikingly beautiful in its quietude and has apparently made quite an impression on the guys in Light Pollution. The “contrasting feelings of wonderment and isolation evoked by the frozen Midwestern plains,” as their press kit puts it, were an important influence for the band’s sound and seem to be at the heart of Apparitions, their debut LP.

Light Pollution play a common brand of fairly straightforward pop rock swathed in a swirling, chilly mist of innumerable synthesizer, orchestral, guitar, and vocal overdubs. The album is impeccably, beautifully produced, and the band is capable of summoning up a huge, pastoral torrent of sound that can perfectly invoke endless tracks of snow-covered fields or the pale expanse of an Illinois sky. At their best, on songs like “Good Feelings,” “Oh, Ivory!” and “All Night Outside,” they wed this sonic potential with driving, anthemic songwriting and singer James Cicero’s knack for delivering a great vocal hook. Drummer Matt Evert’s expressive, clever playing is the linchpin in this equation — maintaining interest and momentum amidst an often hazy musical backdrop — and he’s a highlight on almost every track.

But Apparitions is troubled by some of the same qualities many natives and visitors to the Midwest so often bemoan about its landscape. The record can at times feel static and repetitious, revisiting the same structural devices numerous times and using a lot of the same timbres and ambient sounds on every track. Light Pollution never really show any more of themselves than is apparent from the opening song, and they seem to hit the same sort of lush, breathless emotional note over and over again throughout the record. Amidst all of the extraneous sound, the energy of each track can get lost in the shuffle, leaving some of the album’s biggest moments feeling diffused and underwhelming. Taken as a whole, Apparitions is a fairly monochromatic and indistinct listening experience.

The album is also unfortunately encumbered by Light Pollution’s influences. Almost everything there is to read about the band — including their own one-sheet — mentions Deerhunter, Animal Collective, Grizzly Bear, and Arcade Fire, among a host of other indie rock bands from the last decade. And while there is certainly nothing wrong with derivation, it seems important to invest your appropriations with an abundance of personal spirit, particularly when their origins are so contemporary. While Light Pollution manage to weave their collection of influences into a sonic garment that can be breathtaking, they never seem to occupy it with real flesh and blood. It may be an abstract grievance, but every time I reach the end of Apparitions, I feel like I haven’t been left with much of Light Pollution to hold on to.

Links: Light Pollution - Carpark

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