Phototrophic by SearchlightsRelease date: June 8, 2017
I’ve been following Searchlights, an ambient/post-rock band from Wisconsin, for a few years now. I remember that I was immediately drawn to their patient execution of each guitar layer, comparable to those created by Andy Othling of Lowercase Noises. Their music has so much emotion, it’s hard not to get caught up in the moment each track creates. They are also different from most post-rock bands in that they also use vocals in their tracks. Lane Devereaux’s powerful voice is used more as another layer of instrumentation than a means to relay the spoken word. However, with the release of Phototrophic, the band’s second album release, something has changed. With this release, the band created something a little different from past releases. Adding more vocals, lyrics and a lot more of Mike Fienen’s mastery on drums and taiko. The tracks are little heavier without coming across as darker. The album is beautiful and lush, so versatile in it’s sound, that you can listen to it driving down a highway or lying down under the starry night’s sky.
The album starts with the track, ‘Search and Rescue’. It sets out slowly, using delay, their signature ambient guitar and a steady drum beat. It builds and changes, then surprises, coming in with heavy bass, distorted guitar and cymbal crashes. Then, for the last minute of the track, Devereaux’s voice comes in, soaring and everything stops.
For the second track, the stage is set starting with the title of the track, ‘Slowdance In The Observatory’. It is a shimmering heartfelt track, reminiscent of Hammock. Vocals here soar and the lyrics are few, only two lines that hold tremendous meaning: “Long after I’m gone I’ll be here. Dancing in the light of a million mirrors”.
The track, ‘Sky Burial’, is one of their heavier tracks, thanks to the boomy bass and soaring tremolo guitar. In the last quarter of the track, the drums switch to a marching beat. It really added to the atmosphere of the track. In ‘King’, the bass line really stood out. The track contained many changes and layers. Again, their use of delay is perfect. The vocals and lyrics in this track were infrequent but added a great deal. It’s a driving track that really picks up at the end. The layering of ambient and clean guitar sounds in, ‘Glass’, was great to hear. The drum beat was driving and steady. The bass line was infectious. I loved the synth used in this track. Vocals provided another great layer of sound.
The last two tracks on the album have the most lyrics out of any of the other tracks. The lyrics in, ‘Phototrophic’, stuck with me, repeating in my mind for several days after listening to the album. At times, the guitar sounded like an organ. There are so many great layers and changes in this track. The last track is an unplugged masterpiece, grounding the whole album. The vocals here are provided by Mike Fienen with Devereaux on harmony. It’s haunting and a great way to end the album.
With the release of Phototrophic, Searchlights have not disappointed. The band’s unique drumming style and use of vocals on this album really sets them apart from other bands in the genre. The vocals are unobtrusive and add more by way of ambient layering than anything else. They’ve successfully added another dimension to their sound without sacrificing their signature ambient sound.