When I was younger, in my teens and early twenties, it happened all the time. On a whim, I'd go out to a small rock venue, and be absolutely shocked, ignited, devastated by some young, unknown band. Afterwards, I was always too shy to speak to the musicians, but, if I had any extra cash on me, I'd be sure to head to the merch' table and pick up a demo, maybe even buy a button or t-shirt. The feeling was as intoxicating and brilliant as New York City's snow-covered streets on a sunny winter day. This band was now yours to have and to hold, to love and to cherish, from this day forward, or until they signed to a major label.
That it no longer happens to me very often is, I suppose, a somewhat sad fact. It's not that music has lost its power. Gorgeous, penetrating music only continues to flourish. I simply don't go to as many rock shows as I did when I was younger. I only go to see bands that I know, and I go to venues where I can sit in a plush seat and have a waiter bring me a drink. Beyond all that, I am slowly losing that ingenuous ability to feel, to fall in love. I used to fall in love all the time. Now I'm scared of love. It takes something very special to make me lose control, to crack through my stubborn shell.
It happened last Saturday night at Maxwell's in Hoboken. I went to see Dengue Fever, but I fell in love with Lights. Lights:
Sophia Knapp (guitar, vocals)
Linnea Vedder Shults (drums, vocals)
Wizard Smoke (liquid lights, Jew's harp, vocals)
Andy MacLeod (bass)
It may have started at that very moment Linnea Vedder Shults held her drumsticks like magic wands in the electric air above her beautiful body. And the lights went down and Wizard Smoke poured water into a dish to set the stage swirling in soft colors and nightshapes. Sophia Knapp let her fingerpicks fall across the strings of her Fender Mustang and pressed her gold boot onto a Big Muff and then a wah and then a phase. And Andy MacLeod provided a solid foundation and a soulful groove through his well-worn P Bass.
Or it may have started before all that. When I first noticed Linnea and Sophia passing through the growing crowd, their blond hair, their fairytale skin, their white shirts, their black jeans, and I just knew that they were in a band. Or maybe it started with their voices. The first song was all howl and moan and sigh. Call-and-response and harmony and hiss. Ooh and ahh. These are the voices that sort of plant themselves in your chest and wriggle about and grow. They are the voices that you want to hear before you go to bed at night; the voices that you want to wake beside in the morning.
Sophia reminds me of Michelle, the way she played, with the fingers of her fretting hand coming off so tentative and shy while the fingers of her strumming hand exhibit such impossible skill, much more like a folk picker than just another rock guitarist. She hops and spins and is undeniably charming. And to better explain Linnea's way with the drums, I have to turn to an old page from the Tris McCall Report. While watching Linnea, I was reminded of Jen Watts, the original drummer for Tomorrow's Friend. Tris wrote this about Jen:
The drummer's approach to her instrument was deliberate and thoughtful, and she reminded us all of why a drum kit is comprised of several different pieces. She played each with full cognizance of its tone and relationship to its neighbors. It was like watching a baby play one of those crib games where pressing each colored lever triggers a different discrete result.
Linnea's drumming was just like that, and I love that. Perfect in its innocence and perfect for the band. Andy's style on bass was far more conventional, but no less complementary. He reeled in all the stray parts, got out of the way when necessary, played with soul and fire. On Lights' self-titled debut (CD, Language of Stone LoS 006), all bass tracks are played by Adam Mitchell of Meadows. Andy adds a certain sway to the band without sacrificing any of Adam's drive. In tracks like "Branches Low," "For You," and "Lick the Blood," these forces come together to create a seductive blend of psychedelic rock, minimalist drone, and radiant folk harmonies.
People keep shouting at me: "You bought the CD? It must be love."
I did buy the compact disc. Yes. It came in a moment of desperation and desire, and I don't regret it: The CD has excellent sound.
Language of Stone is an artist-centric label that champions organic musicianship and the human element. Fairness and community are valued above all else. Analog recording is cherished.
Lights was recorded by Greg Weeks of Espers at Hexham Head Studios. The album does exist in vinyl format, but it's currently only available in the UK through Twisted Nerve Records. Sophia had no idea of the sacrifice I was making when I decided to buy the compact discthe very first CD I've purchased for my own pure pleasure in many, many months. But it really wasn't a sacrifice at all. It was more like some kind of crazy love.