Lights Out Asia
SCQ Rating: 65%
I traveled once to Banff, Alberta, and was lucky enough to drive through the Rocky Mountains. Their foggy snowcaps and rocky ledges aping upward were stupefying to stand witness to. But after hours winding around their beauty, it all began to lose scale; only so many successive highs and sprawling vistas can motivate someone before the stimulation turns over, in effect draining the sightseer until they’re transient gazers merely taking photographs to appreciate later. Similarly Lights Out Asia only know how to make epic records and eventually that poses a problem. Listeners can appreciate the band’s vision, to create shimmering aural worlds to wander through, but with each likeminded marathon, the scale wobbles; big downgrades to average, explosive crescendos become expected and the whole weight of the project turns tedious.
Lights Out Asia (now the duo of Mike Ystad and Chris Schafer, since guitarist Mike Rush departed) have taken to the boundaries of their collective imagination to find ways of contextualizing this scale; 2010’s In the Days Of Jupiter went into the far reaches of space and this 2012 effort occupies a mysterious, almost-definitely fictitious island. An inventive association with terrain makes sense for a band so adept at creating atmosphere but it can’t ground Hy-Brasil’s seventy-minute runtime when it’s sonically still up in space. This new odyssey sounds exactly like In the Days Of Jupiter – and, in no small way, like earlier albums – as if Lights Out Asia haven’t traded in so much as a pedal or guitar-effect since they signed to n5MD five years ago. Right out of the gate, that stagnancy kills any conceptual elements Hy-Brasil had considered playing with.
Geographical indifference aside, a track like “Running Naked Through Underground Cities” reveals that the n5MD mainstays still have ample fuel in the tank with a richly hypnotic, four-by-four bass line pushing a smeared synth track of Schafer’s remotely romantic, multi-tracked vocals. Concise but yearning, it sits near the crest of the band’s high watermark, 2007’s Tanks and Recognizers. Unlike that record, however, where two alien languages – post-rock and electronica – assembled into something at once cohesive and earthshakingly combative, Hy-Brasil’s merger feels rooted in habit, not catharsis, and nullifies both the ferocious and atmospheric halves of the Lights Out Asia brand. As a result, supposedly emotional slow-burners like “An Imperfect System” and “They Disappear Into the Palms” drift redundantly by.
It pains me to see Lights Out Asia let their trademark sound and ambition drain into the same bloated framework, where more upsurges and climaxes mean increasingly less and less. At this stage the best thing Lights Out Asia can do is record a four-song EP using only acoustic instruments and analog electronics. Sure it would mean retooling the whole process and educating themselves on some new hardware, but the results would accomplish more than this reverse shock-and-awe. They’d be establishing fresh contrast to a discography that, after Hy-Brasil, sorely needs a change in direction.