Review Summary: It's just the season on your back.
It's the idea of synchronicity, when two separate pieces of art come together so tangibly that they're forever entwined, and having one without the other seems, at best, incomplete and at worst straight up disrespectful. For me, that's Illuminate
and its cover art. I go on a quick flip through my memory banks through your basic 'greatest of all time' album artworks – Wish You Were Here
was always better than Dark Side of the Moon
and the art reflects it; Illmatic
's cover is shorthand for classic hip-hop as much as the actual music; Siamese Dream
represents the duality of the album more perfectly than you could have dreamed, and so on – but none of them actually mould the album to their image the way Illuminate
's does. I'm almost tempted to buy the vinyl just to frame it without ever feeling the desire to listen to the music, because the whole thing is right there: the little girl holding her umbrella against the changing seasons, faceless because she's a cipher of a carefree and childlike wonder that we can't attain again.
I say almost, because artwork and over-deep interpretations of it aside, this is just damn good music. Illuminate
is a warm spot in the late autumn where the leaves have left a little clearing. It is sentimental, a little overblown, heart and disappointment and fucking whites-of-your-eyes fury - in the case of "I Woke Up by the Sea", it's literally fucking and you will rarely hear the word spat out with more venom. Or to use the album's central words instead of mine: "it's just the season on your back, it's just the way we know to act". People disappoint, they leave with broken vows in their wake all over this album, but it's important to note that they don't really have a choice. Leighton sings these kind of lines with an inevitability you can only get when this shit happens so often it starts to feel like clockwork. And behind him always is the band. Lydia don't just pack sounds into the album, they pack worlds, each one blooming from a lightly played piano refrain or a strummed guitar or even a photographic ambience of static.
In less uncertain terms, what I mean is the songs on Illuminate
are fleshed-out and lived-in. Not just musically, although harmonies and tinkles and shrapnel drums burrow their way into the corners of the music to ensure that, but emotionally, tonally. None of the tracks are content to stay where they began. "Hospital"'s keening explosion recalls the very best of emo's heart-rending choruses, but it takes more than a minute to climb its way out of a desolate ambient beginning, where Aaron Marsh's "now look, you made a fool out of love / when all we want is to be enough, when all we want is to feel enough" holds itself as an incontestable truth. "One More Day" veers the closest to outright rockin' until, mocking the music it clearly kinda wants to be, the guitar solo mutates to something carnivalesque and ridiculous, a polar opposite of how the triumphant instrumental march of "Stay Awake" unravels into the bruised delicacy of "All I See". "This is Twice Now" witnesses a thrilling transformation simply by layering in pre-existing elements; "but oh, the whole world / was still on my string" is a haughty gloat when delivered solo, but in the final minute as harmonies and conflicting lines dot the track like constellations Leighton begins to sound desperate and lonely without changing a word.
The best example would be "Now the One You Once Loved is Leaving", a seven-minute finale which gently unspools without ever feeling engineered as an album-ending epic. The song's beginning is galvanising, but it abruptly veers off into a duet between the two singers, glitchy drums clattering behind the harmonies like "Goodbye Sky Harbor" playing out in relative miniature. It's not the words that make this piece of art special - "now you're so sure that I'd be just fine here, but you were surely just taking your own time dear" could be penned by your average high school indie band – but the realisation of the thoughts, the warring emotions behind them on the canvas of music. Every second of this album has its place, and feels a part of the complete whole, even the short anxious shrug of "...Ha Yeah It Got Pretty Bad", a perfectly-titled song if ever there was one. Calling it a concept album would be a bridge too far, but the band weave themes into the fabric as delicately as master weavers. Like "All I See"'s eponymous line surfacing four songs earlier in "Hospital", or the themes of sickness which link "This is Twice Now" and "One More Day" to bookend the majority of the album, or that utterly perfect synchronicity between music and artwork, which given their post-reunion album covers should be considered outright miraculous. These things take Illuminate
a tier above 11 really damn good indie songs, up to where records like Between the Heart and the Synapse
reside, where music feels purposeful and complete but never forced or overwritten.