Release Date: May 1, 2012
Record label: Mexican Summer
Genre(s): Pop/Rock, Alternative/Indie Rock, Indie Electronic, New Wave/Post-Punk Revival, Synth Pop
Like Toronto’s Trust, Light Asylum are a duo who find beauty in pushing the light and dark boundaries of electropop. Their palette is a broad one, from scattershot synth metal to darkwave to hardwired rave techno. Yup, they’re the type of band we want to invent new genres for. Bruno Coviello paints a layered background for the frankly amazing Shannon Fuchess to lever herself into a genderless sonic space of ‘otherness’ like some female Antony.
There's something about the contrast between chilly electronics and a deep, all-too-human voice that has inspired generations of musicians, from Ian Curtis to Grace Jones to Alison Moyet to Q. Lazzarus to Cold Cave. On their self-titled debut album, Light Asylum are in this tradition but not beholden to it, sounding more comfortable, and more genuine, than many of their contemporaries as they blend coldwave, industrial, EBM, and even some pop influences into something uniquely formidable.
You'll rarely come across a band that shows off its influences so readily, yet at the same time makes them so difficult to pinpoint. Does this song remind you of Pretty Hate Machine-vintage Nine Inch Nails, or Speak & Spell-era Depeche Mode? Is that a throwback to Kraftwerk you hear, or is it more in tune with a thumping Grace Jones dance mix? The answer's some combination of all of the above. Light Asylum's self-titled full-length debut boasts tracks you could easily slide into any mixtape of classic synth pop, electronic, or industrial music without seeming that far out of line.
Personality goes a long way. On paper, Light Asylum-- the Brooklyn electro-goth duo of Shannon Funchess and Bruno Coviello-- seem to have plenty at their disposal. You can put the rise of their very accessible but aggressive brand of darkwave down to any number of things: from the band's intense live performances to their unique aesthetic that smears smoky blacks with punchy neons.
Last year was a testament to the excellence of the ever-burgeoning music scene in Brooklyn. Two releases from that scene made my top ten: Liturgy’s highly controversial, genre-defying black metal treatise Aesthethica, and Warm Ghost’s Narrows, a record criminally overlooked for sonically similar but less impressive “chillwave” releases like Washed Out’s Within and Without. I began to notice this stream of excellent bands coming from Brooklyn during the middle of last year; as someone who splits time between California and Oregon, I’m usually attuned to the San Francisco and Portland scenes.
It's hard to think of the last time a (really quite enjoyable) pop record worked so hard at making a bad first impression. If Light Asylum's non-sensical name wasn't bad enough, their eponymous debut has also been lumbered with some pretty off-putting artwork: initially the cover of Joy Division's Closer... IN SPACE!, now a so-gloomy-it's-practically-monochrome photograph apparently catching frontwoman Shannon Funchess in a recreation of Jenny Saville's Strategy (South Face/Front Face/North Face).
Light Asylum is somewhat of an exception to the synthpop norm. While their counterparts are ushering listeners into summer with danceable pop and breezy melodies, these Brooklynites are rattling our cages with darkness and political undertones. Light Asylum is intimidating, but the band’s goth pop comes with an undeniable groove that’s still easy to enjoy.
When a band limits itself to working with one particular sound, it can be for a number of reasons. To challenge an audience’s perception of that style, to challenge their own creativity within certain constraints, because of the song writer’s obsession with it, or a lack of originality.In the case of Light Asylum’s debut album, the latter two factors seem to be at work. But don’t take this as the harsh criticism it appears to be.
It's been three years since Shannon Funchess and Bruno Coviello formed their synthpop project Light Asylum, and just under three years since fellow New Yorkers Cold Cave released Love Comes Close. Largely owing to that album's success, obscure 80s subgenres like coldwave and minimal synth are enjoying something of a revival. But this trend has deeper roots.