Review of the Week: Lightspeed Champion

Staff Writer
Columbus Alive

Lightspeed Champion Falling Off the Lavender Bridge Domino

Lightspeed Champion is the solo project of Devonte Hynes, late of the defunct British post-punk group Test Icicles. His debut, Falling Off the Lavender Bridge, was recorded by Saddle Creek studio guru Mike Mogis last year in Nebraska. To say the record sounds like Bloc Party's Kele Okereke collaborating with Bright Eyes might seem like a lazy comparison given the obvious parallels: Like Okereke, Lightspeed's Hynes is black, British and once played in an NME-friendly post-punk band. And Mogis is best known for his work producing and playing on Bright Eyes records. So a crude estimate would figure the Lightspeed Champion album to sound kind of like the collaboration I mentioned above. But this time the crude estimate would have been right because that's exactly what Lightspeed Champion sounds like.

One thing it sounds nothing like is Test Icicles. The spazzy, dancy music Hynes was making before is completely foreign to this standard-issue indie folk. Instead, Hynes, who was born in American tumbleweed country before relocating to England as a child, brings a battalion of acoustic guitars, fiddles, pedal steel into play. He uses these instruments, and seemingly every other instrument in the American folk-rock arsenal, to put a rural spin on otherwise urban indie rock tunes. The juxtaposition works as well here as it ever has, lending rich arrangements to songs that could have gotten by on their engaging chord changes and Hynes' passable vocal melodies.

"Galaxy of the Lost" kicks the record off with grandeur, and "Dry Lips" reaches similar heights, but the 10-minute "Midnight Surprise" may be Hynes' best offering. Some lengthy songs drag, but this is the sort that's easy to get happily lost inside. It's not particularly epic—certainly not by 10-minute-song standards—but it continuously entertains, combining some of the countriest songwriting on the record with old-school Britpop and piano-man balladry.

When the twang is stripped away, as on ballads "Salty Water" and "No Surprise," Hynes' similarity to Okereke as a songwriter becomes the most clear. But no matter how his music is arranged, it bares some resemblance to Bloc Party, if only for the similar way Hynes emotes when he sings. (Well, there's also the matter of "Dry Lips," which is practically "This Modern Love" 2.0.)

Speaking of Hynes' vocals, they're slightly stiff and not exactly angel-smooth, but melodically he's on-point. His words are frought with references to pop culture, complaining "Everyone I Know Is Listening to Crunk" and shouting out The OC. He seems to relish dropping profanity into such stately music, singing about "sketchy motherf---ers" and giving songs titles like "Let the Bitches Die" and "All to Sh--."

This all goes to show that, even if it's easy to trace the origins of Lightspeed Champion's sound, it's still a sound the band can call its own. Unfortunately, that doesn't mean the band particularly stands out. Hynes' songs here lack the oomph to be much more than average indie folk rockers, good for a listen or two before ultimately being lost to some rarely explored backlog of memory. (Think of it like every Badly Drawn Boy record after the first.) Given the potential Hynes displays on this release, his next one may be transcendent. This one is merely OK.

Grade: B Download: "Midnight Surprise"