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Listening to Lightspeed Champion’s new single, and the songs released with it, got me thinking about his old band Test Icicles. Yes, they’re childish, perhaps too abrasive too often, and music with even just a few screams is now largely frowned upon, but their music had something that Dev Hynes has not recaptured as Lightspeed Champion.

Test Icicles played unusual punk, something like Black Flag crossed with Bloc Party: there’s a real attention to sounds, lots of seemingly-careful cross-rhythms, but all played with an attitude and an energy reminiscent of American punk in the 80s. The music was stark, never dressed up, and whatever they sang about being young and disillusioned sounded genuine, like it came from people who are young and disillusioned.

Now, as Lightspeed Champion, fairly similar sentiments are being expressed, but in melodies that sound overly dramatic, that exaggerate the emotions they express (much like in songs for musicals, which are apparently a big influence on Dev Hynes). A good example is the vocal melody on ‘Galaxy of the Lost’, starting just under a minute in and leading into the chorus.

Whether or not this is a problem is, of course, a matter of taste, and I can quite understand those who call Test Icicles un-listenable and are glad of the change in direction. But, speaking for myself, where Test Icicles sounded relevant, involved and original, Lightspeed Champion sounds as if he’s acting out his lyrics (like in musical theatre). The music feels contrived to express the very personal subject matter, and this makes everything feel impersonal.

It seems that the single ‘Marlene’ will be continuing this theatrical trend from the first album, Falling off Lavender Bridge, onto the next, Life is Sweet! Nice to Meet You (to be released in February).

However, of the two covers on the single, neither is overwritten and both reveal a talent for arrangement that is less obvious elsewhere. Take, for instance, the resonating plucked strings on ‘He’s the Great Imposter’, that play across the last of the stops before each chorus and pre-empt everything coming in together with the refrain. It was occasional moments of intricacy like this that brought me happily back to Test Icicles. Occasional moments aside, though, ‘Marlene’ is another Lightspeed Champion single with showy theatre melodies and without what made Test Icicles sound so good to many.

Matt Wells

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