Review: Light Asylum ‘Light Asylum’

Release date: May 1, 2012
Rating: 4/5

Synth-based pop music is nothing new. It’s a style rooted in the 1980s that received a thorough revival ten years ago. It surprisingly has yet to wane, to the pleasure of some, and to the chagrin of others. The latter’s aversion has much to do with the desire to hear new creative forces in music as opposed to nostalgia for yesteryear, which is an understandable position considering we live in one of the most nostalgia-heavy periods we’ve ever seen in the rock & roll epoch.

In the case of Light Asylum though, their style is no simple retread of past glories as we know them — “glory” being a key word here, as their songs, despite their synthetic basis, sound like they should be played on the fields of battle in the middle ages.

The Brooklyn duo’s self-titled debut LP is a victorious batch of angry and somber synth pop. The songs never sound like they’re addressing domestic issues, but matters of life or death. These matters at times may be linked to the concept of love, but its link is in a Shakespearean, larger-than-life aspect ratio. When singer Shannon Funchess asks to “meet by the river’s edge” and “drown in shallow tears,” the operatic wail that follows sounds as if it’s carrying the pain of the world on its shoulders.

Now as for the anger, there’s a lot of that, but it’s with a fierce confidence. Keyboardist Bruno Coviello’s skill with his instrument makes for meaty, beat heavy back drops that pummel the ears in metronomic fashion. “At Will” for instance finds Funchess screaming a battle cry over a T-1000 synth moan that offers the record its most urgent moment in its rhythmic consistency.

Funchess’ voice is downright venomous at various times on the album, but always with a purpose behind it. Leading single “IPC” plays like an Occupy Wall Street anthem — she asks “are you with us?” and shouts in its coda, “Go tell/the man/we are/freedom fighters/fuck em/take it,” all in two-syllable spurts, like a rallying chant.

A strong voice is one thing, and Funchess has got one of the strongest in the indie world right now, but its bolstering by solid backing is crucial,  which the duo likewise have locked down tightly. The beats on this album are a perfect companion to her vocals,  their relentless pounding resonating through the chest, with each song sounding like a concerted march.

Caviello is no slouch on hooks either; “Heart of Dust” takes a note from Euro-poppers of the past (Giorgio Moroder comes to mind) with a new imperial twist. When the band turns to make ballads, his synths shower over the percussion while staying concise and articulate. This is best exemplified on “A Certain Person,” which works much better as a closer than it did as the opening track on the group’s “In Tension” EP. Its the record’s most conventional song and its sweet longing is an interesting moment of vulnerability on the album’s otherwise hardened shell.

While the exclusion of the epic “Dark Allies,” the group’s excellent mission statement that first drew our attention to them last year, is felt, “Light Asylum” is a solid debut from the duo which encompasses the might of their sound without overstating its concept. While its lyrical content is often more associated with the biblical imagery that peppers goofier strains of heavy metal, its passion lain out over hard synths and pulsing beats makes for a new kind of dance music, where the focus is not so much on gyrations, but on the pure adrenaline that the floor can offer.