LIGHT FM – Buzz Kill City

You may not know the band’s name, but Light FM had already gained a cult following and plenty of accolades, including tours with Billy Corgan, Grandaddy and The National, as well has having had their music featured on many high profile US TV shows.

A few songs into their second LP ‘Buzz Kill City’ it should be easier to spot why this band have had their music so readily accepted for TV. After all, the alt-rock guitars are wonderfully insistent, some of the hooks are catchy, the vocals in turn containing the kind charm needed for the band’s chosen subgenre often oozes. But it’s not so cut and dried, since ‘Buzz Kill City’ is not an easy record to listen to. Light FM seem intent on pummelling the listener as often as they can, with layers of sound – and some very obtrusive keys. In fact, most of ‘Buzz Kill City’ is hard work all round; not necessarily the work of a band who deserve such media-related attention. However, frontman Josiah Mazzaschi is a cult producer with his own studio and as such has put him in contact with various more established acts, so maybe that’s helped get his music on TV…? [Mazzaschi’s previous credits include work with Rilo Kiley, William Reid and Harper Simon. Having Rilo Kiley and a member of Jesus and Mary Chain on your CV really can’t hurt…not to mention a descendent of the legendary Paul Simon. Earlier in 2011, he also produced an EP by Y Luv, reviewed here.]

‘Buzz Kill City’ has an opening number -‘Mercy’ – which has great guitar driven riff. It comes very well suited to a nasal vocal which in delivery is reminiscent of Billy Corgan, if not in tone, then certainly in the way Mazzaschi stretches the syllables to make them scan. There’s a great, great energy at play here which, sadly, is spoilt by what the band refer to as “bleepy bloopy” synths. Very few things are improved by keyboards which sound like an 8-bit computer game soundtrack and this is absolutely no exception. Looking beyond the synths, the vocals have a familiar charm and the drums are really solid. The lead guitars never break into anything particularly imaginative, but still manage to maintain a degree of fuzzy power. During the crescendo at the end of the song, luckily there’s enough going on within Light FM’s musical chaos to drown out those synths!

The nasty keyboards could be overlooked had they only appeared on ‘Mercy’, but it appears they’re an integral part of Light FM’s core sound. They drone and bleep across various other tracks, killing most of the potential charm within as they relentlessly go about their business. The stabbing keys which sit at the heart of ‘Last Chance’ may not be as intrusive, but they’re still a little annoying. Looking past those, this track is a brilliant piece of indie pop, with a simple yet infectious chorus. Its verses have some fairly noisy guitar lines which occupy more space than the aforementioned stabbing keys, while vocally this number has a twee nature. Hints of Pains of Being Pure at Heart make the band sound a little more playful than before here, though Light FM never quite reach The Pains’ all-round class, despite this being a strong-ish effort.

‘Homeless Love’, at first, plays with a huge influence from early 80s synth pop, and then some very unsubtle drums and guitars hit the listener around the head. Not to be outdone, the keys get louder, adopting an atonal squeal that’s almost completely unnecessary. Hidden amongst the messiness, there’s a well written piece of indie-pop struggling to get out, but you’d need a lot of patience to listen to it past those synths – which by this point are distracting to the point of painful. ‘Ode To Hollywood’ contains a pleasing drum line at the back of an arrangement which mixes alt-rock with hints of new wave. It doesn’t expand too much upon its initial mid paced amble; as such a stronger chorus is very much needed here. A thirty second burst of guitar noise thrown in near the end (clearly in the spirit of Sonic Youth’s Thurston Moore and Lee Ranaldo) just doesn’t cut it in the interest stakes.

Much better is ‘Kill The Landlord’, a number which takes a familiar lyrical subject and places it against an even more familiar drum part. It’s funny, no matter how many bands directly lift the big drum intro from ‘Be My Baby’, it still has a sound which, after so many decades, is capable of thrilling the listener. Across three and a half minutes, Light FM settle into a great indie pop number which, surprisingly, even finds a suitable use for those ugly keyboards. Instead of bleeping and squalling in a way which jars, Savannah Wheeler unleashes her inner Greg Hawkes and lays down a quirky keyboard line; one carrying a strong influence from The Cars and the 80s new wave. Also quite enjoyable is ‘$5 Paradise’ – a piece of new wavish pop which marries those keys with some pleasing rhythm work and an even better ringing guitar solo.

Overall, Light FM’s tunes are hard work. There arrangements are so in-your-face and distracting it’s really hard to see how their compositions could have ever been embraced by so many TV shows. ‘Buzz Kill City’ ought to be far more enjoyable than it actually is… It’s not a dead loss by any means; when Light FM softens their sound, there are sparks of something more tuneful and well-rounded. It’s a pity that just doesn’t happen very often.

September 2011