Last Charge of the Lighthorse
Nine Kinds of Happy
The commercial decline of guitar-driven music over the last twenty years hasn’t stopped young performers from forming bands. While some forms, such as blues-rock, have disappeared completely from the mainstream, some forms still have a certain amount of appeal thanks to their place in history. Last Charge of the Lighthorse embraces the jangling guitars, introspective lyrics, and emotional vocals of late 80’s/90’s indie rock. Sensitive songwriting, detailed production, and a high level of musicianship driving tight band interplay distinguish their album Nine Kinds of Happy.
“This Is Where” is an ideal opener. Shawn Murphy’s powerful drumming introduces the song before the guitars come in. This band takes an unified approach to its guitar parts. The two guitarists, vocalist/songwriter Jean-Paul Vest and lead guitarist Bob Stander, aim towards complimenting what their six-string partner plays instead of relying heavily on counterpoint. Vest’s lyrics are outstanding and filled with distinctive details that mark it as a true original. Like the opener, “Slow As Your Can” begins with Murphy’s drums plodding away with a muscular swing. He sets a pulse for the entire song that gives its ghostly melody a chance to hook into a listener’s consciousness. By the third song, it is clear the band are pursuing an atmospheric, layered sound that works particularly well on this song.
Problems grow deeper into the album. When “Spoken” opens with another slow instrumental crawl, many will wonder if the assertiveness of the album’s opener is an anomaly. This song has an interesting weave of sound capable of holding your attention, but the lack of overall variation is a weakness. This isn’t an issue of the band approaching these songs as vehicles for Vest’s poetry instead of actual musical works. Instead, the impression it may leave listeners with is that Last Charge of the Lighthorse have grown too comfortable writing certain types of songs. The lyrics are never an issue and “Spoken” joins the opener as perhaps the best examples of Vest’s considerable writing talent.
“The Less Said, The Better” is a languid reflection on conflict. The band is masters of invoking mood in music and the relatively brief duration of this is no obstacle. One strength of their approach is that the music is always cinematic enough to stand on its own when Vest’s lyrics tell no particular story. There’s a lot of nuance in the album’s closer “So Happy”. Vest’s careful phrasing suggests that there are implied layers to the lyrics not implicit in a surface reading. Inventive bass playing and percussion hold the track down allowing the guitars to leave an impressionistic mark.
This is an important album and has much to recommend it, but the uneven qualities are likely lingering problems that future releases will have to address. Let there be no doubt though – this is a band with an unique voice. The songwriter at the center of this experience, Jean-Paul Vest, has boundless promise as a writer and interpreter of his own songs. Last Charge of the Lighthorse will be with us for some time to come and music fans are better for it.