I’ll be clear from the start with this one: Light Asylum’s debut full-length album is a slower and more drawn out affair than their excellent In Tension EP (2010). And at first glance it can seem slightly less exciting too. Singer Shannon Funchess’s vocals are as deeply sinister and magnetically alluring as ever, but spread across ten songs lose a little of the punch that made the Brooklyn duo’s first industrial synth-noir recordings such an exciting proposition.
Light Asylum live shows are a mesmerising affair and Funchess – who has quite justly been likened to Grace Jones (looks) and Ian Curtis (dance moves) – is a striking presence, a sort of Alison Moyet-meets-Ian Curtis, belting out long, piercing notes of doom. Channelling a thousand religious nightmares into a thundering roar of sound, she baritones over an offbeat ’80s pop-influenced backing track provided by band mate Bruno Coviello’s keyboards. The duo are as much if not more a visual than an audio experience. Clad in leather with bulging biceps and a frown fierce enough to fluster a group of the surliest goths, Funchess magnetically hypnotises her audience like a gospel preacher with a microphone and soap box. Light Asylum lyrics also give the distinct sense that some serious church rebellion is bubbling away in the band’s camp.
But back to the debut album, an electro noir affair of industrial synthesizers and snapping, cracking, cackling drum beats. Album opener ‘Hour Fortress’ has the backing track of a slowed-down Stock Aitken and Waterman tune which, combined with Funchess’s baritone, sounds rather like a warped Kim Wilde 7-inch record. If not immediately accessible, it’s certainly attention-grabbing.
Standout track ‘IPC’ has the backing beat of Michael Sembello’s ‘Maniac’, throttling up the tempo on both the synths and the vocals. It’s a Funchess Flashdance that crescendos as the singer engages herself in a chant-off. With a punchy backing track and even punchier vocals attacking the senses and beating you to a dance floor pulp, with its maniacal melodies and whip-cracking, back-slapping drum machine sound effects, it’s pretty special.
The synth is stripped down much more on the rest of the record – or perhaps beaten into submission by Funchess’s overpowering vocals, which dominate the ten tracks. ‘Sins of the Flesh’ is the perfect soundtrack for a funeral march and ‘Shallow Tears’ evokes the sketchy electro of fellow Brooklyn hipsters Telepathe, for whom Funchess has contributed vocals in the past.
With a clutch of religious-themed songs – ‘Pope Will Roll’ precedes ‘Sins of the Flesh’ – Light Asylum try to pick up where the excellent ‘Dark Allies’ (from the In Tension EP) finished with its lightsaber fights, Hail Marys and calls to prayer. And ‘A Certain Person’ with its strangely sampled horse whinnies and ’80s synth samples resurfaces from the same EP, for an encore appearance.
There are bits of New Order and touches of OMD even, and more up-to-date nods to the likes of LCD Soundsystem, particularly obvious on ‘Shallow Tears’. Light Asylum have collected some of the odder bits of the ’80s and fashioned them into their own mould of gothtronica. The edgy urgency that made the duo so exciting on their first demo tracks may have been smoothed out, slowed down and refined somewhat but their first LP is nonetheless a powerful and intriguing record, dark and mysterious, and filled with bottomless pools of reflection that are just waiting to be discovered. Worthy of your full attention.