record review: Peaking Lights – 936 (Not Not Fun)

Chillwave is dead. Forget glo-fi. It’s summery weather again, and beach-pop still sucks. As shallow a movement as its lyrical depth and the gently lapping waves it paddled in, it is categorically, undeniably and irrevocably finished. Because, after all, come on guys, there’s surely a new trend to sink your teeth into just around the corner, one that requires one or two modicums of intellect to access and enjoy, one that doesn’t lull you into a forgiving acceptance of mediocrity, (how do people enjoy Best Coast?) and (hopefully) one that doesn’t have such a tenuously structured aesthetic rooted in faux-nostalgia and ironic Sun-worshipping. Throw away those retro-effect evening beach shots (we know you did them in Photoshop, anyway) and awaken to the fact that reveling in your white, suburban, beach-orientated existence is no longer socially relevant while they’re behaving so admirably and uh, “un-chill” in North Africa.

By now you already think I’m selfish and demanding and impatient and misunderstanding of the objectives of chillwave so ‘whatever’, let me just articulate further/bludgeon my point a little deeper into your skull. I truly believe that there is so much to celebrate in the magnificence of nature, when framed by sunlight, that it’s frankly offensive that the absolute magnum opus of this genre amounts to ‘the sun was high / and so am I’ and lines of comparable weight. Where is the evocative imagery? Where are the vivid landscapes of colour, the exultation of beauty au naturel, the shy intrusion of solar glare on these sonic summer photographs? With such a vast palette of sensual experience to draw from, how is it possible that I still feel confined to my room when I listen to these songs? (Is this 300-word strong review of a record I have not yet addressed going to consist entirely of frustrated rhetorical questions?)

I do not ask for complexity. The opposite will more than suffice; a five-word repeated mantra often says a lot more than multiple verses, too preoccupied with their own intellect to amount to something relatable. And honestly, “All the Sun that Shines” doesn’t do all that terrible job of reaching such an endpoint. The gorgeous epiphany of sound, the unhurried peripheral butterflies, the closure of eyelids, the embracing of warmth, brushing of field flowers on uncovered skin, waves of time irrelevant in such a spacious context. Five minutes become one.

Honestly, I can and do often tire of taking in copious amounts of new music. Never, however, can I tire of feeling – an appeal to the senses is an undeniable, inescapable appeal, and in 936, Peaking Lights have made an album I can feel. I stop being so flipping ordinary when I hear these songs; I stop existing as a physical entity altogether, in places. It may not be my place to detail such hallucinatory visions (don’t many people hold true that the most boring thing you can listen to is another person’s dream?) but I can certainly assume the role of directing anybody reading, to formulate their own interpretations when ‘feeling’ their way through this album. Though chillwave as a concept may be becoming decadent, this dub-inflected, amoebic entry is probably still part of the genre, wherever the inclinations of my heart would prefer it to be placed.

That there are songs on here called “Marshmellow Yellow” and “Tiger Eyes (Laid Back)” – potentially the most forward, downright groovy track on the album – shows a sense of self-awareness contained within this blissful mix. Calling a track on a fully-fledged record a ‘dub version’ is possibly even a touch of wry irony; that Peaking Lights recognise referential touchpoints and natural genre exploration within their own music speaks volumes for itself, especially when attempting to explain exactly why they sound like the epitome of a sound they were arguably too late to encapsulate. Forum stalwarts and bloggers alike may point to the fact that it is no longer 2008, and they’re right; it’s 2011, and Peaking Lights are making an inane brand relevant again. From the horribly clashing vibrancy of the album artwork to the textural feel of their refreshing music, the message is strikingly simple – beyond the image, and into the sound.

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