Review Summary: A summer album that is just as appropriate at 2am as it is at 2pm.
On November-18, 2008, Las Vegas quartet The Killers released their polarizing third LP ‘Day & Age’. On the album’s lead single, front-man Brandon Flowers asked the question “Are we human, or are we dancer"” Well, I don’t know about you, but I’m human. Now if he had asked “Are we human, or are we rocker"”, then maybe I would have been an alien! It is fair to state that yours truly is not exactly the world’s biggest fan of dance music. Yet, just three days earlier on November-15, a man by the name of Benjamin Plant – under the moniker of Miami Horror - released an EP titled ‘Bravado’… And it made me think again. It may have had something to do with the 21 minute length, but these five tracks had something about them which not only made the body move, but were also impressively catchy and strangely captivating.
Despite having a full-length album practically ready to go just a few months later, Plant’s debut LP went through a tumultuous gestation period which saw him throw out many recordings simply because he felt they had become “too dated”. Furthermore, when he subsequently felt the album was ready to hit the shelves, a painstaking back-and-forth between artist and label ensued, which resulted in continuous tweaking of songs that delayed the LP’s release by over a year! Fortunately, there were a few positives to come from the deferment, the most vital of which was Plant assembling Miami Horror as a true quartet that he could feel comfortable within – both live and on record. Through all the trials and tribulations, ‘Illumination’ is finally here… And it was thankfully well worth the wait.
Another benefit to eventuate as a consequence of the delay in release was Plant’s ability to use guest vocalists on ‘Illumination’. While guitarist Josh Moriarty provides lead vocals on many tracks, ‘I Look To You’ effectively utilizes dreamy kiwi singer Kimbra Johnson. Her vocals, the funky bass and lush soundscapes all merge together to result in what is essentially accessible electro-pop. The real revelation however is three appearances from Neon Indian’s Alan Palomo… Both ‘Holidays’ and closer ‘Ultraviolet’ contain that same air of seductive mystery which the ‘Bravado’ EP carried; Dancefloor anthems that magically double as relaxing, laid-back tunes in the mould of Stardust’s 1998 hit ‘Music Sounds Better With You’ (which Plant has remixed in the past). Better yet is lead single ‘Sometimes’; a smooth as silk ditty that glides along effortlessly and never feels cluttered despite the numerous layers of sound it contains.
Many cuts owe a lot to 1970’s disco-pop as well, adding a further texture of infectious accessibility to proceedings. ‘Imagination (I Want You To Know)’ stands out in this regard, as does the addictively – if lyrically questionable - ‘Moon Theory’; a cut which also highlights Miami Horror’s ability to seamlessly infuse live instrumentation. ‘Illumination’ is not perfect however, as in addition to the only passable lyrics, it is arguably overlong and falls a little flat when it attempts to push too many boundaries and be too cool (see ‘Echoplex’, which is helmed by Swedish singer MAI). With a few tracks bleeding into each other, the album’s more experimental latter half is likely to be most polarizing. Yet, the brilliant club banger of an instrumental interlude that is ‘Grand Illusion’ is perfectly placed to ease such concerns, even if ‘Illuminated’ is not anywhere near as effective two tracks later.
If you could not already tell from the LP and song titles, ‘Illumination’ carries a strong concept revolving around light. More than that however, this is a summer album which contains a rather airy feel throughout – though it never succumbs to Palomo’s disliked Chillwave categorization. And therein lies Miami Horror’s greatest accomplishment with their debut full-length; ‘Illumination’ is such a versatile album, that it is just as appropriate to listen to as you are lying by the pool at 2pm, as it is when you are dancing in a nightclub at 2am. Much of the credit must go to Plant, who clearly is a dedicated music aficionado not to dissimilar to the likes of Passion Pit’s Michael Angelakos. His astute attention to detail is sublime, and ‘Illumination’ becomes even more accomplished when one learns that it was produced and engineered by the man himself in the palatial surrounds of his own bedroom studio!
Recommended Tracks: Sometimes, Holidays, Moon Theory & Ultraviolet.