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New Light Choir – Volume II

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Seems like you can’t press shuffle without hitting a hybrid these days. Restless Genre Syndrome was once an intriguing artistic tool before the untalented turned it into channel surfing stupors and senseless smash cuts. Sure, incongruity and juxtaposition punchlines can be fun the first time. Subsequent spins? Unless the artist is building tension tauter than Ferris Bueller‘s final act, replays are spoiled and rotten. That’s why it’s difficult to avoid a play-once-and-discard philosophy in reaction to these kitchen sink includers. It feels wrong; music deserves a fair shake, but why bother engaging in self-flagellation if the return always diminishes?

That’s where Raleigh, North Carolina’s New Light Choir is different. In the middle of your first test drive, you and your raised eyebrow want to play 20 Questions. You want to sit the duo of John Niffenegger (vocals, guitar, bass, M-tron) and Chris Dalton (drums) down and have them detail every inch of Volume II, the group’s recently released sophomore smoker. Or, to zero in, you want to ask how they covered so much sonic territory without compromising the identity of the band. Because, Volume II has so many looks, so many flavors. It’s constantly morphing, only able to be described in the second you’re observing it. Yet, once you know the taste, it’s unmistakably New Light Choir through and through.

Curious? Here’s how Volume II‘s under-the-radar vastness plays out: A chilling blackened breeze may fill the sails of the good ship Wishbone Ash, pushing the vessel across a NWO_HM bay to a port maintained by Steven Brodsky. That could read as irritating and ill-fitting, but the actual product is another tale entirely. It’s seamless, as snug as a spiked bracer.

Again, how? Well, best guess: Not to nutshell New Light Choir’s numero uno virtue with a click-bait standby, but they pull it off with one neat trick. Instead of futzing around faking tropes, these two dudes trace the ancestral lines of each style until they discover the shared properties of the order. To put it another way, it’s music made from missing links. Then, the embryos get dyed the same color by New Light Choir’s chosen timbres and analog adoration. In the end, it’s one hue. You don’t notice the shifts thanks to their craftsmanship. The genre commas are there, though. You feel them. Like a good movie score, New Light Choir fiddle with knobs equalizing your emotions, subtly presenting themes without flashing audience cues. That makes a huge difference. When you reverse engineer Volume II, you realize it’s smart as hell, doing its work by whispering rather than whipping. And, since it infers in place of telling, every listen is part of a greater evolution. Volume II blooms the same way as a relationship. What you hear now and what you hear two years from now will be, there’s that word again, different.

Of course, we may be going overboard. Volume II, first and foremost, rocks. Opener “Higher Fire (Proximity)” starts life as glassy as Ludicra before practicing Witchcraft powered by Pentagram. “Frost and Fire” rips a riff right from the mitts of Homme/Reeder and places it atop a garage-y beat with a vibe simultaneously recalling death rock or the grimmest iteration of Revolution Summer’s reverb. “July Sky” could be Hammers of Misfortune tasked with remodeling Morricone. Through it all, Niffenegger’s multiple personality interplay is Rundgren-esque, while Dalton pokes and prods his kaleidoscope partner with keen intuition. How? You’ll always wonder. However, you’ll never question your appreciation of a band doing it right.

New Light Choir’s Volume II was released on January 21, 2014 via their Bandcamp. A digital version is available for whatever price you see fit.

— Ian Chainey

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