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Lotus Plaza - The Floodlight Collective

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Artist: Lotus Plaza

Album: The Floodlight Collective

Label: Kranky

Review date: Mar. 2, 2009

Deerhunter fans have known about Lockett Pundt’s solo project, Lotus Plaza, for quite some time, with a good deal of its material turning up on the band’s blog last year. The most dedicated followers even put together a pre-release tribute album – imagined versions of announced but unheard songs (plus a Breeders’ cover). Songs that had circulated online pre-release – “These Years,” “Whiteout” and “What Grows” – were ruled out from the compilation, because, duh, everybody already knew what they sounded like.

It shouldn’t come as a surprise that none of the tributes came very close to capturing Lotus Plaza’s sound, but the interesting thing is how they share certain elements with Pundt’s finished project – dreamy layers of washed-out atmospherics, spaced and barely articulated vocals, and single, precisely outlined details popping from indeterminate sonic auras. There is, clearly, a community of engaged listeners who have been waiting for this album, thinking about it hard and using even the idea of it as a springboard for their own work. How many debuts come with that kind of expectation attached?

And yet, even though it was clearly supported by a community that pounced on every song posting, commented, praised, questioned and supported the work in progress, The Floodlight Collective has a profoundly solitary feel. Pundt played all the instruments himself, except for some drums on “Different Mirrors” (that’s Bradford Cox sitting in). Vocals, where they can be distinguished at all, slip below shivering layers of harmony and noise, an interior monologue lost in gorgeous distraction. There is a dream-like quality to the whole record, a sense of endless vaulting spaces and time stretched out and slowed down. Light seems to be a metaphor, in songs like “Whiteout” and the abstract title cut. You have the sense of staring into immense, overwhelming brightness. Even the cover image is flooded with whiteness. It’s a photo of a young boy, maybe Pundt, on a rocking horse, overexposed to pastel tints. What you lose in clarity, you gain in pure buoyant energy.

The Floodlight Collective can be divided into two types of songs. There are a handful of really accessible, pop-leaning cuts, where the melodies are brought up front and the rhythms pushed forward. These songs – “Different Mirrors,” “What Grows?,” “A Threaded Needle” – will remind you of the more melodic kinds of shoegazing, Jesus & Mary Chain and My Bloody Valentine in particular. “Different Mirrors,” for instance, rides a big booming drum line, its vocals gentle but structured. You can’t hear the words, but you know that they rhyme. Yet while the sweetness is up front, there’s dissonance, too. Distorted guitars crunch and grind somewhere in the distance, buried under a pretty haze but still threatening.

In between these songs, you get a moodier, more abstract series of cuts. Often there will be one distinct, clear-cut sound pushing these tracks forward – a rockabilly-ish guitar in “Quicksand,” a cascade of bells in “These Years,” a shaken tambourine in “Whiteout.” These precise, delimited sounds are like the lines in ink-and-wash drawings, making sense and order out of inchoate masses of color. These freer cuts are also unearthly beautiful: “These Years” like a cross between Gregorian chant and the Beach Boys; “Antoine” all billowing, unfolding masses of sound; the title track full of long dream-sequence crescendos, an imaginary string orchestra tuning up.

In a couple of cases, Pundt seems to find a balance between atmosphere and hook, wrapping almost-pop songs in abstract textures. “Red Oak Way” centers on a circling progression of four notes, ringing like chimes. The vocals are gauzy, indistinct, and you can just make out phrases like “watching cartoons / in the living room / the cracked wood panel walls.” It’s an utterly ordinary suburban image, but transformed, transubstantiated even, by the strange glow and shimmer of the music.

This is, undoubtedly, one of the most beautiful records of this year, and its very indistinctness forces you to go back to it over and over. It may seem odd that people want to write a tribute to an album they’ve never heard before, but once you’ve heard it, it makes perfect sense.

By Jennifer Kelly

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