ALBUM REVIEW: Light Asylum | Light Asylum

by C. Familton

The debut album from New Yorkers Light Asylum follows their well received In Tension EP from 2010 and finds Shannon Funchess and Bruno Coviello positing their songs in a colder and harsher sonic environment than that first EP.

Funchess is still the absolute drawcard with her voice that can sound like any and everyone from Neneh Cherry and Grace Jones to Ian Curtis and Sisters of Mercy’s Andrew Eldritch. There is little sugar coating in her delivery as she barks, shrieks and intones her lyrics in every way possible, making for a varied and often confrontational listening experience amid the pseudo industrial synth primitivism.

Musically Light Asylum’s sound is firmly placed in the late 70s and early 80s, most notably at the junction when synths became affordable and began to be integrated into pop music via acts like Depeche Mode and Cabaret Voltaire. The sparse application of these sounds lends the music an innocence and naive euphoria, empowering Funchess to take centre stage. Angel Tongue is a mid record highlight strangely recalling Men Without Hats’ Safety Dance in Funchess’ timbre and melodies over a bubbling and repetitive Kraftwerkian backdrop. A Certain Someone which appeared on their EP and is re-recorded here as A Certain Person also impresses with its whinnying horses, stratospheric chorus and synthetic funk.

Unfortunately for every moment of greatness there are also misfires where the soul has been drained from the music and the humanistic elements replaced with machines. It makes for an overly dystopian nightmare mood with brittle drum machines and coarse synth stabs and while it works effectively on some occasions, too often the effect is abrasive. Rather than being underdone this is an album that feels overdone and an opportunity lost.

this review was first published in Drum Media

 

LIVE REVIEW: Zola Jesus, Light Asylum, Forces @ Sydney Opera House Studio (31/05/12)

by C. Familton

Forces were up first in this evening that showcased the darker side of contemporary electronic music. The Melbourne duo made great use of the Opera House’s exceptional sound quality and seemed to win over a large portion of the audience with their industrial post punk electro set. They combine a bunch of sounds from the past, particularly the early 80s, yet it conjured up a dystopian futuristic mood of the kind that Cabaret Voltaire excelled at.

Light Asylum have a reputation for bringing intensity to their live shows, something that is often lacking with live electronic music. They did just that with Shannon Funchess proving to be a formidable front-person both in voice and presence. Unfortunately she wasn’t helped by her vocals being buried too low in the mix, a crime when her voice is their main weapon. She made up for it though, with a magnetic performance that saw her stalking the stage, wildly flailing limbs and drumsticks, getting in the faces of those in the front row and generally bringing an intensity that drew the audience into her music. Bruno Coviello was Funchess’ silent synth partner, happy to let her command the limelight while he maintained the intensity on highlights like Dark Allies and tracks from their new album like A Certain Person and IPC.

The impression that Light Asylum made was soon eclipsed by the brilliance of Zola Jesus and her trio of musicians. She was nothing short of a revelation both in terms of her visual presentation and the power and passion she conjured up with that voice. It was quite astonishing how someone so small in stature could project such a powerful sound. She traversed the scales from low brooding notes all the way up to exultant screams and near operatic wailing. At the same time she skipped around the stage and through the audience, threw her body into musically triggered convulsions and showed a real devotion and skill at performing her songs rather than just standing and singing them. Mainly playing tracks from her last two albums she gave us the percussive Vessel, the uplifting pop feel of Sea Talk and a magical take on Night that encapsulated her exceptional ability to create and sustain tension in her music. The serene visuals of slow moving white smoke and droplets of water completed what was a mesmerising performance from Zola Jesus.

 this review was first published in Drum Media

FEATURE: Why So Glum?

by Chris Familton

In both popular and fringe culture the dark has been rising steadily over the last decade and it is showing no signs of retreating into the shadows. Fascination with death, ghosts, the dark arts and melancholy have always been important signifiers of all art forms yet this current trend in Hollywood movies and in many musical genres is tantamount to a gothic renaissance.

At the mass consumption end of the scale much credit must go to films like the Harry Potter and Twilight series for kicking off the current trend. They set the scene for the current popularity of TV shows like True Blood, The Walking Dead and American Horror Story with networks embracing death, blood, evil spirits and serial killers. If the theory of art reflecting society is anything to go by then the financial turbulence of recent years is surely a factor in the current popularity of these shows.

Musically the heyday, if not the origins of goth can be traced to the early 80s and bands like The Cure, Bauhaus, The Sisters of Mercy and Joy Division. Many of the groups dismissed the goth tag, much preferring to be called post punk as most emerged from the late 70s UK punk scene yet their music shared tendencies of claustrophobia, rumination on the dark and morbid side of the human psyche and with visual images that embraced very little colour there was generally a look to go with it. The sound those bands created has filtered through to acts of today, some thirty years later, whether it be the darkwave electronica of Light Asylum, Zola Jesus and Austra or guitar bands like Ceremony, The Horrors and Interpol. Most interestingly the cross pollination with synth pop, shoegaze and and dream pop has allowed new versions of the goth/post punk to emerge.

Every music scene is based on action and reaction so in this age of pop music where everything is increasingly saturated in synthetic gloss it is only natural that those with a disdain for manufactured happiness and more inclined to embrace melancholy will find music like this to suit their tastes.  Of course how we label any type of music and how we group its fans is just a symptom of how we like to categorise things but the fascinating thing about the current taste for the dark side is the extent to which it has permeated the mainstream and doesn’t look like giving up the ghost anytime soon.

this piece was first published in Drum Media

INTERVIEW: Light Asylum


Light Asylum duo Shannon Funchess and Bruno Coviello tell Chris Familton about their formation and the philosophy behind their industrial and primitive synth based music.

If you’ve heard Light Asylum’s first single Dark Allies and thought you were hearing a new song from The Sisters of Mercy you wouldn’t be alone. The deep foreboding intonations strongly resemble those of Andrew Eldritch and combined with the similarly shadowy electronic music it feels like a gothic redux from the 80s. The fascinating thing is that the singer is in fact Shannon Funchess, who has played with a multitude of bands since the mid 90s and more recently collaborated with TV on the Radio, Telepathe and !!! before meeting Bruno Coviello and finding the perfect avenue for her dark and intense songs.

Dark Allies was the centrepiece for the In Tension EP that came out in 2010 and introduced the duo as a refreshingly bold and aggressive take on what can often be cold and introverted music. Though the EP was critically well received it was still early in the development of the band and now two years later, with numerous shows and new songs, they are feeling much more confident about taking their self titled album to a wider international audience.

“We signed the EP deal with Mexican Summer to license one full length LP and part of the deal was that they had to put out the EP and in those first few months. They did pretty much that but there wasn’t a lot of press behind it as apparently no one really cares about reviewing EPs. We’re doing all the press work now with this record, introducing the sound of Light Asylum to the world and hopefully they’ll go back and discover the EP,” says Funchess.

In this day and age of so many bands forming and then releasing albums in a short space of time Funchess was determined they would take their time, enjoy the process and follow their instincts when it came to recording and releasing the album.

“It feels like the natural time for it to come out because that is the way it happened. With the mood the music industry is in it is a good time for artists to be making music that they want to make rather than conforming to anything. Everything is so fluid and open right now with the internet and everything. There is a lot of weird energy and darkness happening in the world right now and I think our music speaks to people somehow. It resonates with them in these times and so there is no rushing it, we treated it really organically. We weren’t hunting down label deals or anything. Mexican Summer came and offered us a deal and it seemed like the right thing for us.”

The formation of bands is always a fascinating process. Is it luck, fate or a strong sense of knowing when the mix of personalities is just right? For Light Asylum the connection was forged from an intense road trip that resulted in both a friendship and a shared understanding of what each of them would bring to a musical collaboration.

“There was a friendship formed just before the music. We met while on tour with a band called Bunny Rabbit and Bruno was playing in that band on guitar and also touring in a mini van across the US as his solo project. I just got invited along for the ride as I was in between tours with !!! so I thought ‘I’ve had a month to kill, why not go on tour with these kids’. Over those thirty days Bruno and I had a lot of time to get to know each other on long drives through the Midwest to the next show and we realised we had very similar tastes and an interest in making music. Two years prior I had formed Light Asylum as a solo project but it took a few years to get together with Bruno in this incarnation. I had a show booked and didn’t want to play the older material so I asked Bruno to play and we decided to write new songs from scratch. We only had a week to prepare for the show. In that time we basically wrote Dark Allies and Shallow Tears plus some others we don’t play anymore. We ended up with a 20 minute set but from that first day in the practice space we were sharing high fives over the stuff we were writing together. We wanted to write music that would make people move and make them feel part of it. We were getting into the music in the rehearsal space and hoped that others would as a result,” explains Funchess.

Despite most of their music being created on machines by two people there is a primal emotional quality to Light Asylum’s music that feels mu8ch larger than the sum of its parts. Funchess views these perceived limitations as offering the duo more options in terms of how the band operates and the strength of the personal interaction between herself and Coviello.

“We don’t see it as a restriction. The more people you have in a band, the more you have to worry about and organise. As much as I love power trios like Nirvana and The Wipers I love the economy and both the space and the intimacy of just playing with one other person. In saying that we will definitely need some evolution in this band. We might end up with guitars on stage or a bass player or live drummer. It is something we are open to for sure.”

The dark mood and emotional richness that stems from the band’s industrial, primitive synth and new wave influences shares similarities with other contemporary artists like Austra and Zola Jesus. Funchess sees their style as part of an identifiable movement in popular culture over the last decade.

“There is a wider global camaraderie but everyone is just trying to do their own thing and create their music, something they love to do. I’m happy there is this dark wave going through the mainstream music at the moment and I think it was foreshadowed by vampires, horror movies and for sure media were pushing it along but now darker music is finally reaching the light of day in a world that is saturated by glossy pop music. The music industry is so fashion now, it is almost like a fashion or a trend is being created with a little bit of music sprinkled around it. There is a lot of friction and pushing and pulling in the world and what you get is new music emerging, even though at times it can be a bit nostalgic.”

Funchess spent her formative years in Seattle growing up on a diet of new wave pop and post punk music before moving to New York in 2001 to further her own musical aspirations. That geographic and cultural shift was an important one as the environment of the Big Apple played a strong role in refining her vision for Light Asylum and her determination to achieve it.

“I’ve always been a fan of bands like Sisters of Mercy, Front 242, The Smiths, The Cure, Depeche Mode and even Nirvana and others so if I was still living in Seattle I would be playing the same music as we are now but not on the same level and with the same consciousness. I was trying to do that there but that was why I moved, to take on the challenges to make it in New York. Trying to make it here is so hard so you try a lot harder and have to be more confident. So yes the music is definitely the byproduct of the artists environment,” believes Funchess.

Light Asylum will soon be appearing at Vivid LIVE at the Sydney Opera House and Coviello is a firm believer in the importance of the band as a live entity. The duo are looking forward to heading to Australia and are confident that, as they’ve found in other countries, if the venue suits the band and the audience are up for it then then everyone will have a great time.

“There are similarities depending on how well the audience know our music. In London people are starting to get the music and sing the lyrics back to us which has been happening here in New York for a while now. We feel there is a similar vibe in all of our audiences though if everyone likes our music and is into it live. We hope you have a great sound system there in Sydney. This incarnation of Light Asylum formed as a result of having shows booked and wanting to do the best possible show so our live performances are really important. People can expect to definitely feel us in the room.”

this interview was first published in Drum Media

 

NEWS: 2012 Vivid LIVE Festival Program Announced…

This year the Sydney Opera House based festival Vivid LIVE has done away with a guest curator, in the past using Lou Reed & Laurie Anderson, Brian Eno and others. From 2012 onward the festival will be overseen by the Sydney Opera House’s programming team, led by Head of Contemporary Music, Fergus Linehan as Festival Director.

The full line-up for this year has been announced today and it feels like there is a decidedly contemporary if not futuristic angle to much of the music.

  • Karen O and KK Barrett’s Stop the Virgens
  • Florence+the Machine
  • The Temper Trap
  • Sufjan Stevens, Nico Muhly, and Bryce Dessner
  • Janelle Monae and the Anchandroid Orchestra
  • Amon Tobin’s ISAM
  • Efterklang and the Sydney Symphony Orchestra
  • PVT
  • LCD Soundsystem’s Shut Up & Play The Hits (Australian Film Premiere)
  • My Brightest Diamond
  • Seekae
  • Nights Like This w/ Danny Brown and MED
  • Modular Night w/ Tom Vek, Jonathan Boulet, and Kindness
  • FBI/Penny Drop Party w/ Zola Jesus, Light Asylum, and Forces
  • Imogen Heap
  • Good God Danceteria!
  • Future Classic Party – line-up TBA

Vivid LIVE takes place at the Sydney Opera House 25th May – 3rd June 2012.

NEWS: Light Asylum announce debut LP and stream single…

Brooklyn’s Light Asylum caught a lot of ears in 2011 with the release of their EP In Tension. Finally we get a (self-titled) full length album and from the sound of the excellent first single Shallow Tears and the b-side Genesis it is going to be heavy on the goth synth drama that the EP introduced. The album will be out May 1st via Mexican Summer.

Light Asylum are:  Shannon Funchess – Vox/percussion gun drums and Bruno Coviello – Synths/drum machine.

Album track-listing

01 Hour Fortress
02 Pope Will Roll
03 IPC
04 Heart of Dust
05 Sins of the Flesh
06 Angel Tongue
07 Shallow Tears
08 At Will
09 End of Days
10 A Certain Person

 

Favourite Songs of 2011

So many people are starting to base their listening on songs these days, such is the reduction in attention spans, the proliferation of YouTube browsing and the ease of compiling ones own playlists featuring the best stuff you want to hear. Separate to my Top 50 LPs of 2011 I’ve also put together a list of songs that caught my ears and became hard to shake. There were of course dozens of others that could be included here but this is a lucky dip of sorts into some of my favourite tunes of 2011 that might lead you further into the artist’s work if you havent checked them out yet…

In no particular order as they are all great…

Dick Diver – On The Bank

Those Darlins – Screw Get Loose

J. Mascis – Not Enough

Total Control – One More Tonight

Light Asylum – Dark Allies

The Strokes – Under Cover of Darkness

Iron & Wine – Tree By a River

Timber Timbre – Bad Ritual

Little Dragon – Ritual Union

Wilco – I Might

Two Tears – Eat People

The Pains of Being Pure At Heart – Belong

Iowa – Complete Control

The Laurels – Black Cathedral

The Adults – Nothing To Lose

Austra – Lose It

Atlas Sound – Te Amo

Twerps – Dreamin

Royal Headache – Really In Love

Melodie Nelson – Waiting

Black Lips – Spidey’s Curse

Crystal Stilts – Shake The Shackles

Jamie XX – Far Nearer

The Felice Brothers – Ponzi

The Paper Scissors – Lung Sum

Robag Wruhme – Thora Vukk

Wavves – I Wanna Meet Dave Grohl

Wild Flag – Romance

Leader Cheetah – Crawling Up A Landslide