In just a short few years, Cork artist Lighght has built an impressive catalogue shaded with horror, humour and poignancy. The jagged noise of debut EP The Skin Falls Off the Body was a meditation on pain, a response to a past trauma. Debut album Gore-Tex in the Club, Balenciaga Amongst the Shrubs dealt with the recovery process in a transformative manner, manifested in a sprawling work that introduced doses of melodic synths, busy percussion and forays into spoken word and the organic sound of the solo harp. His newest release, Holy Endings, is his most consistently relaxed work, downplaying frenetic drum patterns, upping the organic instrumentation and opting for a slower tempo that allows his pointillist compositions to unfold patiently.
It is not a complete departure. While previous releases have been more hyperactive, full of electronic jitters, they also contain moments that anticipate Holy Endings, like the twinkling synths of ‘Blind and Overwhelmed’ from last year’s They Are Just Bangers Bro, the patient progression and spoken word of “I Bite Through the Bit and It Bites and It Bites” from Gore-Tex in the Club or a familiar focus on the human voice. Whether Holy Endings is an evolutionary step or a brief detour, it adds another flavour to the palette of a producer who has gained a reputation as one of the most exciting in Ireland.
If one wanted to place this release in a stylistic box, the broadest would be ambient with many provisos. At first listen it sounds Arctic, songs built on skeletal, interlocking phrases played on featherlight chimes. Cold-breath echoes and liberal panning create a pleasingly atmospheric listen, a feature that is almost mandatory in modern ambient releases. That should be enough to satisfy the quota, but this is not furniture music. Some elements are clearly too abrasive for the ambient mode, like ‘St Bliss’, a track comprised of steel wool scratch, drilling and clanking percussion destined to interrupt any reverie the listener might have drifted into.
There is just too much going on for Holy Endings to fade into the background. Where the song structures seem minimal, the approach to timbre and texture is maximalist. Holy Endings is an audial cornucopia, the producer delighting in each novel sound he lobs across the channels. Centrepiece track ‘Care2kno’ is eight minutes of opulence, beginning with a deceptively calm mix of warm sine waves and celestial pads, joined by the fizz of sci-fi synths. Progressively more disconcerting sounds appear in the mix, like the pinball percussion that zooms around the soundscape and then dissipates. A flat voice repeats ‘I’m free’ multiple times as the song reaches its end, poised between celebration and pathos.
Similar vocal samples appear throughout, as recorded conversations or short snippets, contributing to the sense of audial and conceptual unity even when many tonal colours are in play. The use of such electroacoustic techniques in the current era is a method of inviting the organic back into a synth-dominated world. On ‘And the Snow Decided to Stop Falling’, gleeful laughter contrasts with the clinical backdrop, bringing the humanity back into the mechanical. But the opposite happens too; nature is subjected to electronic manipulation and outputted in unfamiliar forms. The human voice is an ever-present but unsteady force here. Where one hears a potential anchor, like an Irish accent or pleasant laughter, it is echoed, looped, squashed and sped to unusual pitch.
That is the appeal of Holy Endings. For most of its duration, it is front-loaded with beauty of a curiously fragile kind, like an ice sculpture you’re afraid to touch in case it shatters. Pre-lockdown, Lighght had expressed a desire to move into live music. His response to the world freezing was to release his most accessible, playful music, with Sorry I Can’t Go Out Tonight, I’m Too Busy Going In coming complete with hilarious song titles and meme-like cover. Holy Endings sounds like the other side of that reaction: a longing for an end to stasis, expressed in the natural imagery that coats this album in its sound and packaging. With the world gradually opening again, it can only be hoped that Lighght gets to fulfil his wish. The possibility of hearing this music live is exciting enough, but the potential impact of such a collision on future releases is even more intoxicating. Pádraic Grant