Lucifer is, quite possibly, the most misleading album title that I have ever encountered. In the release notes for their third LP, Peaking Lights, or more likely someone at their label, elucidate the meaning behind the choice of name. The notes tell you that that it was actually meant as, “bearer of light,” going for the latin root meaning of the word. They are perhaps the first people to publicly insist on this usage since the third century of the Common Era, when it became typical to refer to the devil as Lucifer. On their album, married couple Aaron Coyes and Indra Dunis choose to associate said name not with the afterlife, but with the new life of their son.
Had you not read the above paragraph or the press release, you would have been, like me, somewhat confused on first listen. The opening songs songs remind you many things—chillwave, dub music and even raggae at times, but nothing feels in any way sinister or deserving of Satanic associations. “Moonrise,” the album’s languid intro, gives us cascading xylophones, and it’s followed by a love song to from a mother to her new-born child. Once that song’s slightly reverbed guitar picks a laid back solo, thoughts of the title and its hellish connotations are forgotten.
Instead Coyes and Dunis invite you to share in something private and powerful. It feels like a musical crib, and at times it seems almost as if we’re violating their space by listening. Music often provides an escape, but it’s rarely into something so natal. On “Beautiful Son,” the mother’s love overwhelms and colors the whole world of the song. The piano delicately sticks to the light, higher notes, seems almost to play with the guitar as the song builds into light crescendo.
Lucifer roughly follows the trajectory of night, flowing from “Moonrise,” to “Morning Star,” with “Midnight” right in the middle of the album. Here, the listener enters the deepest part of the Peaking Lights dream, and things sort of sound different. “Words are words, and days are years. Our lives are fears. Our eyes are ears,” sings Dunis. On this surreal, dissonant song, language dissolves and a synth in the background whines and whines into a fever pitch.
The album then opens up, or rather breaks down, into a post- (or pre- as the case may be) language dream. The lyrics hit just the barest essentials in tracking the course of emotion from trough to crest, “Low, high / low, high / low and high.” Everything falls away, it’s just the mother’s shimmering voice hovering over a sample of a baby crying, then making the loud, happy laughs of a child at play. It’s an experimental art-pop portrayal of early parenthood at its most ideal: the father provides the consistent, baseline beat and on that the mother and child can comfortably express their love.
Would I have heard “LO HI” as I just described it, had I not known Lucifer‘s deeply personal, biographical context? It’s an engaging track, yes, but would I have been so moved? I don’t know, and that’s the risk Peaking Lights have taken with this album. Beginning with its title, the husband and wife make it clear that they cared little that the listener understands what their music means. In the case of Peaking Lights’ Lucifer, accessibility and clarity have been sacrificed to make way for this beautiful and natural portrayal of a parent’s love. –– Matt Conover