Release Date: Feb 16, 2010
Record label: Domino
Genre(s): Indie, Alternative
‘Life Is Sweet! Nice To Meet You’ is essential listening... This second full-length effort from the former Test Icicles man is a grandiose affair. Almost a year in the making, the results here should catapult Devonte Hynes into the mainstream without hesitation. All strings and staccato guitar, lead single ‘Marlene’ is an indie-pop masterpiece, while ‘Faculty Of Fears’ wouldn’t sound out of place on Silverchair’s last album, entirely built up of soaring orchestral segments and catchy vocal hooks.
Dev Hynes's transition – via his Mike Mogis-produced debut – from dance punk saboteur of Test Icicles to an English Conor Oberst is continued on his second album as Lightspeed. And what the songwriter (he's recently written for Solange Knowles and X Factor's Diana Vickers) does – simple country-twinged, piano/guitar music – he does very well. Take Faculty of Fears, with its odd little hints of Queen, gaunt strings and references to Pythagoras, exemplifies everything that's likable here.
With a track listing that is split into four sides like a vinyl double-album, two instrumental "Intermission" tracks, a cover shot designed to look like it was placed in an old-timey photo album -- not to mention the video for "Marlene," which centers around singer/songwriter Devonte Hynes getting dragged around the desert in a tragi-comic, Harold Lloyd kind of way -- Life Is Sweet! Nice to Meet You seems at first like a concept album soundtrack for an imagined Lightspeed Champion film. Conceptual conceits aside, Lightspeed Champion's 2010 sophomore effort Life Is Sweet! Nice to Meet You finds Hynes and producer Ben Allen (Gnarls Barkley, Animal Collective, Christina Aguilera) delivering a robust, melodically rich, and lyrically complex album that goes well beyond the bedroom Baroque pop of his 2007 debut Falling Off the Lavender Bridge. In that sense, Hynes has developed nicely as a vocalist since Lavender Bridge, and where he was once a pleasant, if somewhat lo-fi presence as a singer, he now splits the difference between the earnest, literate ache of Ed Harcourt and the theatrical croon of Rufus Wainwright.
Based on Dev Hynes’ ongoing musical evolution and oft-cited pop culture obsessions, Lightspeed Champion’s second long-player could plausibly have arrived wearing any number of guises: a navel-gazing collection of sweetly melancholic, unutterably twee bedroom ballads; a riff-bolstered slab of tuneful grunge-lite that (to Hynes’ eternal chagrin) would consistently inspire the most tongue-in-cheek mosh pits in history; or possibly even a string-laden wonk-funk freakout that saw our hero throwing down his beloved axe to beatbox and body-pop across the stage - without a flutter of irony, of course - when the follow-up live shows rolled into town. The fact that Life Is Sweet! Nice To Meet You is simultaneously all and yet none of these things is both a plus and a minus. Sprawling, abstruse and somewhat labyrinthine on the first couple of playthroughs, it’s by no means as neatly compartmentalised a record as you might want it to be at the moment of diving in - notably less so than Lightspeed’s debut offering, 2008’s Falling Off The Lavender Bridge.
Devonté Hynes is a man who makes music as habitually as most people listen to it. Recently turned 24, the American-born, British-raised, returned-to-America multi-instrumentalist has already etched a variegated litany of notches into his career bedpost. After first making his name as one third of fleeting dance-punks Test Icicles, he’s spent his time creating a robust debut album under the Lightspeed Champion pseudonym, collaborating with a generous and varied roster of musicians (including the Chemical Brothers and most recently Basement Jaxx), penning songs for TV talent show finalists, performing cult film scores, and embarking upon another solo project (this time under the alias Blood Orange), all the while giving away an iTunes-fattening glut of free songs over the Internet.
Devonté Hynes enjoyed critical acclaim at age 19 as a member of art-thrashers Test Icicles, and now, as Lightspeed Champion, he works with the resigned determination of someone who realizes hype is fleeting. Under a pair of pseudonyms (Blood Orange is the other), Hynes gives away impossible-to-digest amounts of free music online. Most recently, Hynes had his heart sawed to pieces by adorable animated bears in the Kanye West-endorsed (all caps: "THIS IS DOPE") video for Basement Jaxx's 2009 electro-pop stunner "My Turn", a song he co-wrote.
You can immediately tell when an artist is going through a Queen phase. Songs become oversized, theatrical and painfully melodramatic. Judging by Devonté Hynes's ambitiously grand follow-up to Falling Off The Lavender Bridge, with its piano intermissions, ubiquitous orchestra and choral chants, there's been some Freddy Mercury blaring through his player.
Free of the pressure to create genre-bending music congruent with Test Icicles’ wild and lofty reputation, Devonte Hynes focused his first effort as Lightspeed Champion on simple heart-wrenching country-folk. Writing in a style seemingly nicked from Conor Oberst, Hynes turned in the pastoral and often quite beautiful Falling Off the Lavender Bridge, but those plaintive, whispery folk songs only hinted at the potential for his new vehicle. In fact, Life Is Sweet! Nice to Meet You already finds Hynes moving on to new stylistic ventures, this time echoing two of his more obvious influences, Elvis Costello and Todd Rundgren.
See me after class Devonté Hynes’ sophomore album as Lightspeed Champion offers a smattering of well-shellacked chamber-pop tunes and little else. The requisite balance between guitar jangle (“There’s Nothing Underwater”) and melodramatic piano balladry (“Romart”) means Life is Sweet! Nice to Meet You will serve as a tolerable soundtrack to at least two months’ worth of New England sorority parties. But the overproduction and studio gimmickry haunts the halls of this collegiate rock, constraining Hynes’ squeaky-clean instrumentation between alternating tedium and banality.
Dev Hynes lobs us yet another musical curveball. Camilla Pia 2010 If Lady Gaga was a guitar-toting cool dude instead of a fabulously deranged chart diva, she might be a little like Lightspeed Champion. Bear with us on this. You see, they both boast chameleon-like qualities when it comes to their careers – flitting between this and that sound- and image-wise – and are more than partial to a bit of dress-up.
TRYING to piece together a Valentine’s Day playlist without confronting love’s dark side is a fool’s task. There are so many ways to write a love song, and most of them involve suspicion. Ambiguity and uncertainty pervade the songs listed below, which are drawn from some impressive recent and forthcoming releases. But even the ones that end in failure still radiate hope.