Forget Birmingham, Sheffield or London, the real sound of progress this year has emerged from the South West suburbs of Bristol. From the Howling Owl roster of Spectres and Oliver Wilde, infectious pop punk of Caves and Hello Lazarus through to Empty Pools expansive soundscapes and Laura J Martin's experimental folk, 2013 has introduced an array of talent furrowing away at the core of the city's various underground scenes.
Another name to add is that of The Fauns, who, despite not being new in the most pedantic sense of the word, have conjured up one of 2013's finest records in the shape of 'Lights', their second long player and first for Geoff Barrow's Invada Records. Having formed six years ago, initially as a trio before extending to and finally settling as a five-piece, 'Lights' represents a major leap forward from 2009's self-titled debut in more ways than one. With the band's own bass player Michael Savage on production duties alongside engineers Tim Allen and Jim Barr, whose previous combined credits include Roxy Music, Jonsi, Portishead and Thoughtforms, 'Lights' delivers an expansive, all-encompassing new chapter for The Fauns.
Centred on Alison Garner's evocative, breathy vocals, 'Lights' draws influence from the 4AD and Creation blueprints of yore while taking inspiration from modern-day stargazers M83. Introductory piece 'Point Zero' sets the scene gracefully, its astral build-up segueing effortlessly into austere melodrama 'Seven Hours'. Traces of Asobi Seksu loom large, with Garner's voice at times offering further instrumentation to the layered sounds that surround her.
'Ease Down' embarks on a more upbeat journey; displaying The Fauns pop tendencies in its make-up. 'In Flames' follows a similar pattern, immediately drawing comparisons with My Bloody Valentine, albeit from the band's pre-'Loveless'/'Ecstasy' era. Meanwhile 'Nothing Ever' takes a heavier approach, suggesting The Fauns aren't averse to adding grunge to their incendiary musical feast. Album title track and lead single 'Lights' provides the record's highlight. Echoes of the Cocteau Twins 'Lorelei' permeate its veneer by way of a lilting, summery melody as Garner coos enticingly throughout.
Elsewhere, the brooding atmospherics on 'With You' and Tron-inspired psychedelia of 'Let's Go' ensure the
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