Francis And The Lights, an American musical project led by Francis Farewell Starlite, have been hitting the global stage as of late, particularly with their Bon Iver and Kayne West featuring track, July’s “Friends”. The song was also sampled on Chance The Rapper’s song, “Summer Friends” (from this year’s mixtape, Coloring Book) before it was officially released as a single by Francis And The Lights.
Moreover, in May, album closer, entitled “Thank You”, was recorded on a phone in Justin Vernon’s living room, with Vernon, of Bon Iver, later saying on Twitter, “This man. I can’t say enough words. Recorded right in my living room. I cried then. I love you Fran”.
This kind of exposure, and fanfare courtesy of fellow musicians, more than supports the release of the project’s debut album, Farewell, Starlite!, which came out Saturday, September 26.
However, the project has been releasing EPs since 2007, and as late as 2013’s Like A Dream. Considering its sometimes cinematic sounds, it might not surprise some that, in this discography, includes a film score, 2012’s science fiction comedy-drama, Robot & Frank. So, by no means a latecomer to the scene.
In fact, in 2008, Starlite incorporated the company Francis And The Lights, a limited liability company (LLC), rather than signing a record deal. This was followed by an investment of $100,000 from the Normative Music Company (NMC), giving the project a valuation of $1 million. NMC then shutdown, but current fortunes, global stardom, justify Starlite’s canny nature and ruthless streak.
Anyway, the album opener, “See Her Out (That’s Just Life)”, begins with mournful synth, like a tragic romance. Then comes a refrain for the vocals, the backdrop light yet majestic. That introductory melody pattering like the soft bump of a bass drum. The vocals are also soft, falsetto without the piecing earworm power. Things become immediate, like the impassioned licks of a rock guitar, but on a keyboard.
“Comeback” starts with sedate piano, with intermittent stabs, drama, of crackling bass drum. Snapping fingers might, in their lone refrain with the vocals, perhaps draw comparisons, in the listener, to the voice of Phil Collins. Very, from the heart, white man blues. Quite soulful in its own weird way. This then segues into the next.
The moody “Can’t Stay Party” is really busy, with industrial drum that gets yet busier. Louder. This then dissipates, dropping out for another verse. Indeed, the chorus is triumphant, speedy triumphant. The closing moments draw attention to the processed vocals, very futuristic, like a future where there is little desolate and barren.
Funky “I Want You To Shake” is so in a processed, and electronic, kind of way. It’s very chopped up, like nanoseconds each of different multiple sources to convey the one, anchoring melody. Like cutting many individual letters to make your own headlines. It’s like a groovy number Michael Jackson would’ve put to his name were he alive or, just what’s more, if he were somehow preserved for future times.
“May I Have This Dance” is moody, again, evoking tragic romance. The vocals are really sombre, daring to ask his potential other have if they should be so kind to take their hand in dance, maybe even, one day, marriage. It gets busier, as if to convey the rush of first love, the thrill of the chase when two are intertwined as one. On the dancefloor.
Kanye West features on next track, “My City’s Gone”. This one’s sombre, piano lightly tinkling. Not necessarily sad, just dwelling in melancholy because it’s comfortable. For the, slightly rousing, chorus you can hear strains of what appears to be slightly distorted guitar. Vocal harmony, one processed, the other reasonably human, join as one. Is this two becoming one, as in the previous track?
“Running Man/Gospel OP1”, is moody and ambient, the percussion particularly intriguing, if slightly synthetic. The vocals then get sassy, soulful. Maybe even in the Marvin Gaye kind of way. The closing minute of the track, perhaps what could be construed as “Gospel OP1”, the layers of sound get cloudy, a cacophony of muddy gospel church choir.
The aptly titled “It’s Alright To Cry” really evokes that essence in its music. Again, a bit like dwelling in melancholy because it’s comfortable. It’s like someone urging you to well up, even though you’re not in the mind state to do so and, if it does come, they appreciate the beauty baring all brings forth. A refrain, like light, weeping percussion, is like the dropping of tears. A whole host of voices, doubled up or individual, bring the song’s end. Multiple tears from multiple people.
Kanye West is back, along with Bon Iver, in aforementioned big hit, “Friends”. This is definitely the standout song on the album. The track opens big, bold and grand. Almost Eighties in its construction, it has a happy ending gone sour vibe to it.
Like striving toward a goal to the bitter end, achieving a modicum of happiness and success but sacrificing and losing much on the way, too. Like a journey, largely an emotional one, but also comprising of physical endeavour, as said. That mountain top you strive to climb. Metaphorical or otherwise.
The already talked of finale, “Thank You”, is a short one, sparse piano and stripped back, particularly for this album, vocals. Again, the word gospel. The closing moments grow more complicated, like the rising tide, multitude of things, like when John Lennon said, “life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans”.
Highlights, looking back, are particular tracks like “I Want You To Shake” and “Friends”. The former for its futuristic funk, and the latter for that epic, Eighties we might not make it tragic feel.
Outside those two, though, there’s much to appreciate, like “Comeback” seguing into “Can’t Stay Party”. “May I Have This Dance” brings forth the issue of two becoming one; with following track, “My City’s Gone” echoing those statements, though, perhaps, in a slightly different way.
Again, “My City’s Gone” crops up, this time conveying the comfort in melancholy; which, in turn, is reprised in, funnily enough, “It’s Alright To Cry”. “Running Man/Gospel OP1” evokes a gospel choir, an electronically infused one, and the album closer, “Thank You”, brings this back, a rousing experience.
To bring more succinct evaluation to the fore of the closing part of this review, this album’s best summed up in the artists it seems to maybe remind one of. You’ve got Phil Collins, Michael Jackson, Marvin Gaye and John Lennon.
The Phil Collins, white man blues/soul of “Comeback”, and the funky groove of “I Want You To Shake” maybe like a futuristic take on the Off The Wall era of Michael Jackson, would be reason enough for excitement when comparing current music to the classics of the past.
However, with this one, you also get that signature vocal sound of “Running Man/Gospel OP1”, very much like Marvin Gaye. The closing moments of “Thank You”, convey, with the multiple layers in the soundscape, the complications of life and its many distractions. This might remind one of that John Lennon quote mentioned above. Those titans of music, combined, are a definite barometer to measure the excellent in contemporary music.
Francis And The Lights have really put together something that, not only has big, memorable songs, but something that is well sequenced, so much to the point it comes across as a something with a fluid concept running right through it. Maybe a whisker away from a concept album proper? Francis And The Lights’ Farewell, Starlite! can be bought from iTunes here.
Words by Andrew Watson