Lights Out Asia: Hy-Brasil
Lights Out Asia takes Hy-Brasil, a phantom island located off the south west coast of Ireland and that purportedly is only visible every seven years, as the inspiration for its fifth album. Of greater significance to fans of the band's lush melding of electronica, post-rock, IDM, and shoegaze, the band is now a twosome, with Mike Rush (guitar and bass) gone and the group now comprised of Chris Shafer (guitar and vocals) and Mike Ystad (electronics). Much as Lights Out Asia did on its first two n5MD releases (2007's Tanks and Recognizer s and 2008's Eyes Like Brontide), Hy-Brasil finds the group fashioning an album-length narrative arc that encompasses an encyclopedic range of moods. All twelve pieces form part of a dramatic puzzle that demands to be heard in an uninterrupted sitting.
It's worth noting that though Rush is no longer in the group, that doesn't mean there's no guitar playing on the album, but that guitar duties are now solely held by Shafer. In fact, there's a goodly share of it, even if it's counterbalanced by an equally generous amount of cello and piano playing, as established at the very beginning of the seventy-one-minute album. Softly pealing guitar lines bring a delicate melodic core to the opener “The Eye of All Storms” before a harder guitar attack gives the material a visceral and raw quality. The style is epic and the sound full, rich as it is with strings, electronics drums, electric piano, and synthesizers. Lights Out Asia is very adept at modulating between moods, and that too is showcased here when the track builds from a restrained opening passage to a louder one before a gradual segue eases the material back to a more becalmed state. The group's signature soft vocals adorn “She Played With Time,” which otherwise blazes in an electronic-IDM style that's heavy on atmosphere and evocation. Vocals are even more prominent in the third track, “Only What You Take With You,” wherein the group spotlights its softer side during the ballad-styled intro before plunging into an emotive foray into luscious IDM-ambient scene-painting.A persona gradually asserts comes into focus as the album progresses: in keeping with n5MD's emotional electronica aesthetic, Lights Out Asia weaves acoustic (cello, viola, piano, guitar, vocals) and electronics (synthesizers, electronic beats) into dramatic set-pieces of wide-rannging dynamics. The group's poppier side comes to the fore during “Running Naked Through Underground Cities,” whose vocal melodies are so plaintive it wouldn't be hard to imagine Morrissey singing them. Beatific ambient settings also appear, including the interlude “Birds Sing Sun-Rising Hymns” and closer “Abell 1835,” and sometimes the synthetic design flirts with Vangelis-styled New Age, such as during sections of “An Imperfect System”). Without question moments of beauty and elegance surface—the opening half of “They Disappear Into the Palms,” for example—but two things do weaken the album: it's a tad long, for one—the album might have benefited from a running-time of no more than an hour (if that)—and there are moments when a live drummer rather than electronic beats would give the music a more natural punch. But they're comparatively minor complaints for a recording that impresses for the immense care with which it's been assembled and its concern for detail.