Body of Light
Body of Light are not musically the same band that they were when we first encountered them, although the path that lead the Jarson brothers from their earliest gritty darkwave tape releases to this year’s new romantic-styled Bitter Reflection isn’t hard to trace. With each release, peaking with the 2016’s exceptional body-infused synthpop tour de force Let Me Go and its 2019 chaser, the excellent Time to Kill, the Arizona-based brothers Alexander and Andrew have been refining their songs to their current classy pop sheen, highlighting vocal melodies and synth-based hooks alike.
Picking up from the preceding LP, Bitter Reflection is built around the Jarson’s smart songwriting and stylish (but not tacky) 80’s synthesis and drum programming. Indeed, tunes like “Out of Season” with its rubbery bass, multi-tracked vocals and snatches of modulated guitar feel like they could have appeared on a period soundtrack, closer to say Level 42 than any given darker post-punk or new wave act you’d care to name. And when it works, it’s quite nice; “Never Ever” runs on the energy of its alternately rhythmic and drawn out vocal-lines with fretless bass and sax solos to top it off, while “This Conversation” has the kind of immediate chorus that makes the simplicity of its blippy synth-programming come to life, lively yet still chilled-out and cool.
That said, the record suffers somewhat from its cultivated sensibility; many of the songs are so polished that they lose definition and texture. There’s a great tune somewhere in the folds of ever-so-carefully mixed gated snares and overlapping melodies on “Strike the Match”, and the slowly ascending progression of “Last Repose”, but their utter gentility, their smoothness, is so all-consuming they top out at pretty good. The same goes for the album’s instrumental tracks, which while having some nice Tangerine Dream-esque atmosphere are burdened with a mannered production that sucks out their emotion, urbane to the point of blandness.
What we have then with Bitter Reflection is the rare case of an album that’s simply too even-handed and tasteful. There’s little doubt that the Jarsons and producer Josh Eustis worked very hard getting everything on the record just so, and it’s hard to fault them for that effort when it does pay off. Then again, you can’t help but feel like a little more grit and fire might have brought more out of the songs. It’s not bad per se, just unrelentingly agreeable. Is it possible for a record be too pleasant for its own good?