Album Review: Lightships – Electric Cables

By on Friday, 20th April 2012 at 12:00 pm

When I was a young whippersnapper, released into the big boys’ world of proper music by dint of attending a provincial university and hanging out with those who had reached the heady heights of their 21st birthday, CDs were at their peak of popularity. Those little silver discs held a genuine aura of exoticity and desire – vinyl was dead, the internet was slow – and amongst the also-ran Britpop, heavy metal and proto-girl bands available at one’s local HMV was a swiftly-growing metagenre called ‘Chill Out’. The nadir of which was “three discs for £4.99” specials, usually headed by a track made by a band one had heard of, otherwise padded with whatever the label could get their hands on with the minimum of cost – anyone with a TR-808 emulator and an FM synth could knock off a handful of chords, a basic 75bpm beat, and earn a few quid. However, its zenith was a slew of albums from genuinely talented and groundbreaking bands that just happened to fit the ;Chill Out’ label – Massive Attack‘s ‘Blue Lines’, Portishead’s eponymous debut, even acts like the Orb, who had been doing their own thing for years, suddenly found themselves the soundtrack to early-’20s’ pseudo-pretentious dinner parties across the land, not to mention the bedroom fumblings that inevitably followed.

Eventually the 1990s fizzled into the millennium; ‘Chill Out’ was inevitably adopted into the mainstream, losing its aura of sophistication in the process. CDs became tarnished, both literally and figuratively, as the world became blas? and cynical about digital technology; vinyl nostalgia increased with every little nubbin that broke off a CD case. But of course people do still engage in the act of chilling out, even if they don’t use the term itself in polite company, and require a soundtrack to enhance the experience. Which is where Lightships‘ ‘Electric Cables’ comes in (Gerard Love’s solo debut).

With not a drum machine to be heard, ‘Electric Cables’ nevertheless runs at such a trance-like mid-tempo for its entire running length, with its somnambulant vocals and gentle, flutely instrumentation, making it a perfect album to lay back, float away, and (whisper it…) chill out to. Its opening couplet in ‘Two Lines’ (“Somehow through a series of exchanges / Two lines get entangled and entwined”), sets the intent. Invisibly subtitled “love by Love”, there’s all sorts of elemental romance here – spark; rivers; blossom; silver; gold; sun; photosynthesis; dawn – even in the song titles there is earthly optimism.

This is undeniably a Glasgow album – featuring as it does half of Teenage Fanclub and Belle and Sebastian‘s bass player, how could it not be? ‘Every Blossom’, with its spiderweb acoustic guitars, flute solos (and is that a glockenspiel?), is quite the companion to the barbed pop of B&S. ‘Sweetness in Her Spark’ (video below) has a lovely, proper chorus and tempo, and shows the potential of the project for combining the pretty presentation into a chart-bothering song.


‘Silver and Gold’ is ’60s Californian fuzz-pop incarnate, with swatches of vocal harmonies and ambience, but still cannot resist almost-whispered, barely-there verse arrangements. The record pivots around ‘The Warmth of the Sun’; so sparse as to feature an actual metronome to keep time, this almost-instrumental sums up how leisurely the whole affair is – it sounds very pretty, but it’s not a record for anyone in a hurry for kicks. Things do make a break into a slightly higher gear in ‘Stretching Out’, which adds a bit more of an urgency to the whole affair, but like a chamber-pop Jethro Tull, there’s always that underlying flute to keep things grounded and, well, somehow British-sounding.

Fans of the Scottish sound will love this, as it neatly fits into the oeuvre, not stepping on any other bands’ toes, but being clearly of a certain school. Others may find it more of a niche record, one that suits a very specific need – it’s no good when preparing for a night on the tiles, for instance. But if you’re planning a romantic candlelit home-made dinner for two, once the wine has been opened, and the beef’s resting, the gentle tones of ‘Electric Cables’ will be the perfect accompaniment. Just be careful not to overdose on the chill out – everyone knows a sleeping date is not a date at all.


The debut album from Lightships (aka Gerard Love of Teenage Fanclub fame) is available now from Domino.

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