Peaking Lights: analogue beauty in a digital age

Married duo tinker with synths and record straight to tape to bring imperfection and physical manipulation to the fore

There's a theory in audiophile circles that much modern music is, subconsciously, impossible to listen to for any length of time. Radio-penetrating loudness and a lack of dynamic range mean that even if you like a song, your brain is going through the auditory equivalent of staring at a lightbulb and quickly has enough of it.

If this theory rings true then you should listen to Lucifer, the new record by Peaking Lights, and the kind of dense, hypnotic recording that the digital era rarely produces. Built up from recordings made straight to quarter-inch and cassette tape by married duo Indra Dunis and Aaron Coyes, most of the sound is generated through home-made analogue synthesizers, the rhythmic fuzz countered by Dunis's serene voice.

"We don't play to a click track," she says. "We try to keep a space in our recordings where we can be improvising. Where you can lose yourself … I try to get into that when I'm playing live – that loss of a sense of time or space."

Peaking Lights can be seen as part of a lineage of genres and labels which, to crudely delineate, prioritise "feel" over "tunes": krautrock, dub, power electronics, early house, Basic Channel, 4AD. Throughout Lucifer, ever-evolving rhythms push through shifting banks of synth patterns and electronic detritus, while Dunis's circular vocal chants dissolve into ripples of analogue delay. The overall production is a little clearer than on 2011's 936 but it's still remarkably intricate and fuzzy at the edges where the signal overwhelms the constraints of the tape. "The last one we did in three days," explains Coyes. "This took three weeks, so we could do a little more separating of the tracks."

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Lucifer is still a perfectly accessible pop record. But it's a pop record that brings to the fore elements largely sidelined in modern music: imperfection, physical manipulation and the kind of revelatory "mistakes" integral to music's history. Music has often been at its most interesting when machinery has been pushed beyond its limits, or against its intended purpose, a conflict less likely to arise with the often boundless potential of digital technology. Peaking Lights' approach to recording and use of unpredictable analogue tools recapture this potential.

While the band are not purists ("We'll bounce between the two formats; the convenience of editing in digital is awesome," admits Coyes) they delight in the physicality of old electronics. An online film shows Coyes fossicking in charity shops for electronic parts; for a band whose sound is an agglomeration of the producers they namecheck (Lee Perry, early Eno, Throbbing Gristle) this recycling of obsolete consumer technology seems fitting.

While the synths' own lifespan may be limited – their weight and temperamentality conspiring against them – Peaking Lights have already turned this base electronic metal into the kind of brain-expanding musical gold that rewards repeated playing. "I feel like a lot of stuff nowadays is so pushed into the mid-range," says Coyes. "You can turn it up loud, but you don't have that 'body music' feel. People'll take it as far as they can with the digital realm, and it's good to experiment with and experience. But eventually, if you take anything too far it's going to bounce back."


Justin Quirk

The GuardianTramp

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