Friday, May 18, 2012

Album Review and Interview: Light Black - Ex Wives

Album Rating: A
Light Black’s two-person studio repertoire with Paul Hundeby handling bass, drums and vocal duties, and Walter Kappler on guitar, has proven to be an effective framework for the Boulder, Colo. emo rockers.  Desperately screamed vocals, poetic, profound lyricism and fluctuating rhythms synthesize as one on Ex Wives, yielding impressive results that most four or five-piece groups fail to achieve.  Even with such a dense array of instruments and sounds, the album’s guitar work still manages to shine through as its strongest feature.  Through incessant, weaving guitar lines interspersed within a powerfully ambiguous post-rock atmosphere, Light Black prove that while many bands can noodle, some simply noodle harder than others.  Although each aspect of Ex Wives is executed with poise and precision, the result is an organic, naturally flowing album that plays much more like a unified experience rather than a collection of songs.

At just over 45 minutes long, Ex Wives is not a brief affair.  Instrumental tracks and segments feature cyclic, repeating melodies that extend the album’s length and relax its overall pace.  Light Black invest just as much time and detail in creating a lyricless void for the listener to delve into as they do constructing dynamic vocal arrangements.  The instrumental “Putnam,” and “My Big Gay Greek Wedding,” a track in which vocals intermittently surface, both make use of spacious tremolo and shift the listeners’ attention to the album’s more ambient qualities.

Ex Wives’ seemingly indefinite nature makes it, at times, all too easy to detach from oneself and become hopelessly lost in the vastness of sound.  Take “I Smoked Two Blunts with Kurt Travis” (a true story), for example: a slow-burning interlude laced with intricate guitar lines and upper fret-board exploration set to the beat of a persistent yet soothing rhythm played on the ride.  Even with the extensive amount of voiceless sections on the album, however, no instrumental venture lasts too long before the return of Hundeby’s shrill and expressive storytelling. 

Unlike screamo contemporaries such as Pianos Become the Teeth and The Saddest Landscape whose music is overcome by a prevailing theme of sadness and grief, Light Black take on a more lighthearted approach.  Though the band’s lyrics are serious and not always pleasant in nature, the stark contrast between the somewhat dire lyrical content and the melody of the songs beautifully relieves the tension.  “Corporate” exhibits this contrast perfectly, with the album’s strongest and most gripping vocal performance.  At about halfway through the track, Hundeby hopelessly poses the question, “Why was such a perfect thing made to die, God?  Are you really up there, or am I all alone?” before bittersweet guitar chords partially alleviate the emotional strain.  In doing so, Light Black create a mood that straddles the line between upbeat and ominous, oscillating at times, while many bands within the genre instead gravitate toward one side of the emotional spectrum.   

Ex Wives has a lot going on; ambient instrumental segments and endless guitar fiddling are tied together by an emotionally taut vocal performance, making for a very thick sound that may be somewhat overwhelming to the listener at first.  Without a doubt the album sounds good right off the bat, but it may take repeated listens for one to truly comprehend everything that Light Black is doing.  Once unmasked, however, Ex Wives becomes a powerful, engaging listen with many discreet features to dissect from the whole.  That being said, attempting to truly pick apart such a naturally beautiful album would be doing it an injustice, for sometimes, music is simply meant to be absorbed – not examined.    

Get Ex Wives for 50 cents HERE!
Light Black on Facebook

1. Ex Wives
2. Golden Santa
3. Todd Packer
4. Putnam
5. Leather Daddy
6. Blunterlude
7. My Big Gay Greek Wedding
8. Clouds
9. Corporate
10. Night Owls (Acoustic)
11. I Smoked Two Blunts With Kurt Travis
12. Golden Santa Returns

I also got a chance to send a few questions to Paul Hundeby and Walter Kappler of Light Black who gave me some further insights on Ex Wives' creation process, and also described the general workings of the band.

How’s it going guys?  Would you mind introducing yourselves and stating your roles in the band?

W: My name's Walter and I play guitar for Light Black.
P: My name is Paul and I play drums, bass, and do vocals.

So you guys record as a two-piece in the studio if I’m correct.  What is the songwriting process like with only two people in charge?

W: Well Paul and I live in different states.  I live in Boulder, Colo. and he lives in Orlando, Fla.  [With] every song, I'll record the guitars without knowing what Paul is going to do for drums or vocals, and then I'll send it to him in Florida and he'll record drums, vocals and bass and then mix the guitars.  It's pretty cool when he sends the songs back [and] they're all finished because I have no idea where he’s going to take the songs[by] adding vocals and drums.
P: Definitely agree with Waltcat, I love to see how the songs evolve from the time I get the simple GarageBand file to tracking everything on my end then mixing and mastering everything on Logic Pro.  The idea for the band kind of formed through this [process].  Theo (Walter’s nickname) recorded some guitars for a song at our good friend Dustin’s house while we were staying in Ohio last summer, I offered to add more instruments and vocals to the song, and the band took off from there.  That song ended up being “Night Owls” off of our first album.

Tell me about your full/live band lineup.  How does that work out?

W: Right now I've just been practicing with a drummer in Boulder named Dylan
Livingston.  He's really solid and he's going to be doing drums for all of our live
P: I’ll be doing vocals along with some lead stuff on guitar.  Theo has been working with some talented dudes for the rest of the band.  We’re planning to tour soon.

Alright, so in addition to having an EP out, you guys just released a full length called Ex Wives.  Can you cite some of your influences for the album and specifically for some of the lyrics? 

W: Well we sort of consider Just Beneath Your Feet to be an album, considering that it clocks in at almost 40 minutes.  Influences for Ex Wives were like, Weatherbox, Algernon Cadwallader, This Town Needs Guns, Explosions in the Sky, and anything the Kinsella brothers have made.
P: I listen to a little bit of everything and I’m very crucial on drums; unfortunately I haven’t been a full time drummer in a band yet.  My percussion influences would be Daughters, Pianos Become the Teeth, Loma Prieta, The Dillinger Escape Plan, This Town Needs Guns, Lower Definition, Meet Me in St. Louis… I’ll cut myself off there.  For the lyrics, I don’t know if I had any particular band to influence me.  Ex Wives is more of a concept album lyrically, I tried to write a story.  I’m interested to keep trying this method on future albums.

Do you have a favorite track from the album?  My personal favorite is “Corporate.”

W: “Todd Packer” or “Corporate.”
P: “Golden Santa” or “Clouds.”

As of now, do you have any plans for a physical release of the album?

W: We're making some limited CD copies that should be available soon.
P: Yes, very soon.  I’m trying to finish up making them.

I have to ask, what’s the inspiration behind the track name, “I Smoked Two Blunts with Kurt Travis”?  I find it to be an especially ridiculous/hilarious title because the track itself is instrumental. 

W: My friend’s band was opening for Dance Gavin Dance in Columbus like 2 weeks
before he got kicked out.  Way before the show started I was smoking a cig
outside and Kurt Travis came out and was just talking to my friend and I, and
then we asked if he wanted to burn one, so we just chilled in the back of a pickup
truck in the parking lot and smoked two blunts and he told us a few knee slappers.
P: I was unfortunately not present for this.

What do you guys think about this whole upsurgence of Cap’n Jazz inspired “twinkle daddy” emo bands?  Do you associate with the label at all?

W: I guess it’s pretty cool to see more "twinkle daddy" bands, but I’m just worried that too many people are going to start bands like that and [the sound] will become cliché.  The Kinsella sound is definitely an influence on us and in some aspects we try to sound like that but at the same time I try to make guitar parts that are completely different from anything that these other bands would do so we can still make an original sound.
P: I agree with Theo, definitely amazing bands.  It’s extremely impressive how influential the Kinsella brothers’ music has remained; they are so talented so I guess it’s not a surprise.  I wish I listened to all of their music more.  We definitely take all the Kinsella references as huge compliments, and that’s fine if we’re associated with them because there’s no shame in that[.]  I think we are a bit more abrasive though, and I love that about us, I enjoy being able to scream and write lyrics for our music.

Let’s wrap things up with a generic question: What’s in store, and what do you expect to see in the future for Light Black?  

W: Three new songs on a split 12" vinyl with our friends in Things Fall Apart and City
of Ifa, tour, and another full length before 2013.
P: Basically what Theo said; very excited to have two of my bands (the other being City of Ifa) featured on a 12” vinyl split with our amazing friends in Things Fall Apart.  [We’re] ready to further improve our sound and our ability as musicians, and the split sounds awesome so far.  The full length should be pretty interesting if we got this much buzz from Ex Wives.  Thanks for interviewing us and reviewing our album.  

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