Listening back through older releases from Portland band WL, the trio seemed to be searching, albeit doggedly, for their true muse. Their 2013 album Hold was enjoyable, but came off as detached and scattershot as they experimented with many styles and techniques to deliver their message. Clamorous shoegaze, edgy lo-fi, and blurry dream pop were used as elements in their work in concert with the beautifully haunting voice of frontperson Misty Mary. On their new album Light Years, it is apparent that WL chose a “less is more” aesthetic, giving them the answer they were searching for all along.
Listen through Light Years cover to cover and you can feel the the growth in their method as they gradually spread their wings. The elegiac organ work on opener “Pink Cloud” sets the tone for the LP. Lush but unsettled, Mary’s vocals are coupled with the backing instruments instead of being drowned out by them. Their single “Crossing” is even more stripped to a skilled essence, until all we are left with is a lone voice, resonating keyboard hum, and the sense of aching loss. By shedding the weight of extraneous effects and tricks on Light Years, each track now stands forth to make its own impactful statement.
Just as effective is that the band has an accompanying “visual album” component for Light Years, pairing each track with a music video to expand the experience while focusing on the subtle nuances. Take the single shot mass transit loneliness on the video for “Crossing” or the crashing waves setting the Beach House-inspired “Disintegrate”. Both songs are rudimentary in their composition and the short films highlight that intention. When Light Years turns bold, so do the matching visuals. “Mercury” is a kinetic song that rattles through your headspace and the symmetrical gymnastics are fitting scenery. The choppy geometry of “Feeling Down” is well suited for the moody Krautrock atmosphere. Whether you choose to listen to Light Years with your eyes open or shut, the music of WL invites the listener to let go while providing a textured soundscape for a needed aural escapes.