February 06, 2004

Light Sleeper "Light Sleeper"

When I reviewed California indie-pop band Tigerella’s debut album three months ago, I made a couple of points that bear repeating in this review. One was that their otherwise promising music suffered from consistently weak drumming; the other was that the lyricists occasionally spent more time trying to prove their intelligence than writing a catchy song. I repeat these assertions because two-thirds of Light Sleeper---bassist Steve Coghill and singer Yvonne Ng---are members of Tigerella. The fact that I had to explain all of this to you before talking about the actual music illustrates how doubly damned Light Sleeper’s record is. Not only is the band a side project, but it’s also a side project of a band that is neither good enough nor famous enough to warrant the kind of name recognition that forces people to pay attention to side projects in the first place.

The only edge that Light Sleeper has over Tigerella is that the timekeeping is done by a Zoom 234 drum machine, which ensures that the instruments will always be in sync with each other. It is also good that instead of simply programming a loop and letting it repeat for the entirety of the song, the band chose to carefully sequence the drums, changing the patterns to fit different sections in the same way that a human drummer would. Unfortunately, the Zoom 234 also makes the record sound like a collection of demos that never made it to Tigerella practice. I don’t think that this is entirely the case, though, because the songs on Light Sleeper are calmer and prettier than Tigerella’s. You won’t find any guitar noise or jazz breakdowns on these songs, just layer after layer of chiming guitars and unsteady co-ed harmonies, producing a sound much more lush than one would normally expect from a four-track recording.

Like Tigerella, Light Sleeper at their best infuses their songs with pithy, clever poetry. Opener “Febrile in February” is a stoic goodbye to an effervescent yet careless person who acts impulsively without regard to consequences. The protagonist of “Spellbound” is immersed in surrealist movies, the poet of “Go” takes inspiration from nature in a manner similar to that of Tigerella’s “Tidepool,” and album closer “Where’s My Happy Ending?” is sung from the point of view of a woman who has realized the hard way that real-life relationships don’t work like those in fairy tales do. Because of “Happy Ending,” the inclusion a song called “Pop Song” about how art doesn’t always imitate life seems redundant. There aren’t any lyrical gaffes as obvious as the ones on Tigerella’s record, but Light Sleeper are much more hit-or-miss when it comes to arranging their words into patterns that could usher in discernible hooks. Some songs, like “Indian Giver,” awkwardly force lines into chord progressions that don’t last long enough to support them.

Overall, Light Sleeper is a pleasant but ultimately unmemorable diversion that might cure your insomnia much faster than the band originally intended. Because of Tigerella’s extremely low profile, I don’t even see a market to which this record can be targeted. While listening to it, two questions kept popping into my head. Who is going to buy this album because the pedigree of its creators? And who is going to enjoy an album that can’t even live up to such a meager pedigree?

---Sean Padilla

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