Review Summary: What better place to begin a trip around the musical world than Louisiana.
As a broad generalization, certain musical genres are often strongly associated with certain cities, states or even countries of the world. When it comes to indie-pop, geographical locations such as New York City, California and pretty much the whole of England are those which immediately come to mind… One that would not is Louisiana. Yet, the hotbed of Cajun and Zydeco has managed to produce one of the most promising talents that the genre has seen in years: Lafayette quintet Givers. If one actually thinks about it, why wouldn't a state with such wide-ranging influences be equipped to conceive such an outfit? Taking advantage of the vast array of cultures surrounding them during their upbringing, Givers practically take you on a trip around the musical world on their debut LP 'In Light'.
Kicking things off with infectious lead single 'Up Up Up', the world music influences are readily apparent and seamlessly integrated, as synths are masterfully combined with all kinds of percussive instrumentation (not to mention a flute). Elsewhere, the finger-picked acoustic guitar of 'Saw You First' adds a Southern feel, 'Ripe' has a decidedly Asian flavor, 'In My Eyes' and 'Ceiling of Plankton' contain some Caribbean calypso, while the beautiful ukulele boasting 'Atlantic' somehow manages to convincingly carry a Celtic vibe! The percussive driven afro-beat of acts such as Vampire Weekend and Local Natives will come to mind, but via an abundance of layered melodies, Givers infuse subtle Cajun and funk influences to help differentiate the band from the indie-pop pack.
It goes without saying that in order for Givers' five members to carry off such an expansive array of sounds and influences, then they have to be a dexterous bunch. Occasionally recalling the early work of Australian octet Architecture in Helsinki, all five are indeed multi-instrumentalists and many have been brought up performing improvisational work. Keyboardist Nick Stephan also plays flute and saxophone, impressive bassist Josh LeBlanc was initially the band's guitarist and trumpet player, while percussionist and co-lead vocalist Tiffany Lamson often bangs away at a second drum set. It's not just a mess of noise however, with the arrangements finding a nice balance of controlled chaos that is all held together by some catchy as hell guitar-work courtesy of Taylor Guarisco. To this extent, kudos must also go to producer Ben Allen, whose previous critically acclaimed work includes Animal Collective's 'Merriweather Post Pavilion' and Deerhunter's 'Halcyon Digest'.
In keeping with Givers' multi-dimensional aural assault, it only makes sense that vocals would also come from multiple sources. While drummer Kirby Campbell occasionally lends a hand, it is predominantly Guarisco and Lamson who brilliantly deliver the boy/girl dynamic on show here. Mostly, it is a back and forth interplay between the two ('Up Up Up'), occasionally they harmonize together ('Saw You First'), while sometimes Lamson's sweet and soulful croon dominates ('Ripe') and at other times it is the more conventional indie yelp of Guarisco that takes over ('Noche Nada'). The chemistry of the combination may best be heard on rock-oriented standout 'Meantime', where Guarisco initially takes center stage in front of some gorgeous 50s like guitar melodies. Then, at the three minute mark, a tempo switch signals Lamson to leave her striking mark, before a group chant of "Don't get stuck in the meantime, no such thing as the meantime". A fantastic guitar solo then caps the track off gloriously.
Cynics will likely point to Givers borrowing a little too much from influences and dressing up their (on average) five minute tunes with over-extravagant ambition. Many may have issues with a track like ‘Noche Nada’, and its continuous tempo switches and clashing dynamics. Yet, the manner in which such a song succeeds is a testament to the band’s craftsmanship and genuine nature, resulting in the collective being creative and experimental enough to rise above their influences. Importantly, those characteristics never compromise accessibility, with the uplifting celebratory exuberance on offer, undeniably being one of In Light’s most indelible traits. With even the (relatively speaking) conventional cuts including some kind of climactic twist or turn, the most predictable aspect of this captivating and diverse debut is its unpredictability. Without filler and incredibly expansive, ‘In Light’ begs for repeated listens to explore its multitudes of layers, rhythms and melodies, ultimately making it a surprise album of the year contender.
Recommended Tracks: Meantime, Up Up Up, Atlantic, Noche Nada (A Lot From Me) & Ceiling of Plankton.