The old adage “less is more” certainly has its applications in music. Pile too many riffs or components into a song, and it very quickly becomes a heap of noise. Beautiful vocal melodies get sunk by superfluous words, or emotional instrumental performances get ground into 25 effects pedals to emerge as lifeless robo-groans. The only person with any business stacking 40+ guitar tracks is Billy Corgan, and he’s on thin fucking ice.
But sometimes, very rarely sometimes, more is more—if you’re smart about it. The line between “massive sound” and “good god what have I done” is easily blurred and more easily crossed. It takes intelligence and control to build something big enough to blow listeners away, but also sturdy enough to stick with them afterwards, and with their latest release Love & Decay, NY slowcore trio Spotlights prove they have the steady hands and steadier minds to create something lasting.
Love & Decay is somehow simultaneously airy and yet oppressively heavy. The booming, overdriven bass tone punches out the low end of the mix, keeping a heavy and steady foundation for the myriad guitar tones and atmospheric elements. The drums ride relatively simple beats, but give each hit absolute power and presence—I wouldn’t be surprised if the cymbals used to record this album were tossed at the end for being beaten to death. Programmed percussion and searing keyboards flit among the open spaces of the album, painting each composition with tones that slip between grainy and picturesque.
Every instrument on this record is deployed with thorough precision, but for me, the defining sound of this record is the towering pyramid of guitars. Every song seems to have not just one stylized tone or effect, but ten: “Far from Falling” feels like an orchestra’s worth of players are plucking strings by the end. Spindly melodies litter the mix, popping in and out of existence like bubbles, and when it’s time to get heavy, crushing distortion and dissonant chords press down on the ears like an audial night hag. Yet every piece fits perfectly with its bedfellows, and no tonal choice seems casual or careless. Love & Decay layers tone after tone like bricks, constructing a sonic monument that is both terrifying and stunning.
Love & Decay demonstrates above all else that Spotlights puts a great amount of intention behind each decision they make, and this is no more apparent than in the dynamics on the record. The album opens with a massive expanding chord progression that is quickly juxtaposed with gentle vocals and dolorous acoustics. The middle section in “Far from Falling” spaces big, grindy hits amid a sea of small palm-mutes and harmonic guitar work that soon blooms into crash cymbals and distorted guitars. “Mountains are Forever” starts as a straight shredfest, but dips into a quiet oceanic bridge of ambient texture and spastic percussion. Spotlights understand the immense power of dynamic shifts in sound, and put all their weight behind each swing on Love & Decay so that every second smashes into the listener like a haymaker.
Between intense energy shifts, detailed tone sculpting, and sprawling song structures, there is plenty of beauty and darkness to absorb from Love & Decay. Spotlights clearly give thorough attention to even the most minute aspects of their music, shaping each sonic second meticulously to drench the listener in emotion and vibrance. They are a prime example of putting heart and mind to full use in the pursuit of music. That’s a high bar to set, and the rest of us goofs all better get to climbing if we want to keep up.
My Top Track: “The Particle Noise”