There are some hefty theatrics at the beginning of Lightspeed Champion’s latest and second LP, Life Is Sweet! Nice To Meet You. Perhaps it’s the bass drums, or the way the opening song, “Deadhead Blues,” slowly builds from a whispered open to soaring chorus and, finally, instrumental breakdown that gives us this cinematic impression, as if this is the record’s overture or opening credits.
It definitely feels like a departure from the Lightspeed of old, with burlesque refrains and chimerical accompaniments replacing the familiar slide guitars and genteel strings. But the track closes on a jagged guitar note before sliding into the rambunctious, catchy first single, “Marlene,” and one of the clearest examples of how this new album connects with the old: it’s still gaudy, and filled with beautiful songs giving bitter testimony to broken hearts and failing relationships, the main reason we loved Lightspeed from the beginning.
This is just Dev Hynes being Dev Hynes. The man behind Lightspeed used all sorts of ugly imagery and depressing stories juxtaposed with sweet melodies from the very start, and there is no desertion here, in fact at times the strains are more overt. “Hurts to be the one who’s always feeling sad,” he almost sarcastically bemoans on “The Big Guns of Highsmith” before a wall of voices interrupt him with, “Oh just stop complainin’!” with Queen-like flair. The contrast between lyrical and musical themes are even bolder on this record because of all the variation, and highs and lows; Hynes really flexes his classical chops with guitar and violin virtuosity and even throws in instrumental intermissions and a piano etude.
Sadly, consistency is the album’s main enemy. The good songs are very good, the bad are bland and unmemorable. Whereas Falling Off The Lavender Bridge offered a smooth ebb and flow and seamless songwriting from beginning to end, Life Is Sweet! features the unfortunate fruits of experimenting with a more vast array of styles. This isn’t necessarily a result of Hynes being sloppy or lazy but growing into his craft, and despite all this still a very strong sophomore effort.
The creative ceiling for Hynes is immeasurable at this point. His side project Blood Orange has yet to be explored and exposed, his work with classical orchestras and crossover music is impressive, and his other artistic endeavors in short fiction and comic books have been both shocking and humorous. Following a musician of his abilities is reassuring since it’s not if he’ll produce a masterpiece but when. There are hints of this all over his current work; consider them preliminary footnotes to a brilliant career.