The Christmas Lights, Walk Like a Human
Treading heavily on the previous footprints of late turn-of-the-century groups such as The Postal Service and contemporary Passion Pit, The Christmas Lights have released their debut record, Walk Like a Human. The record is a remnant of what was once a burgeoning electro-pop scene but which has since become so saturated with artists borrowing and lending that dividing lines are no longer clear.
Walk Like a Human, however, stands on its own as an honest electronic album, with delicate, cascading synths coming in and out of airy textures over jarring, erratic, compact blips and blushes. Recorded in entirety by Kenny Tompkins, the Christmas Lights’ debut seems to rely more on the writing aspect of the music than some of its peers, letting the songwriting take the place of a full band ensemble with traditional instruments.
The album’s sound, often dark and musing, gives way to sardonic lyricism sung in tight-lipped reservation. The projected single and most exemplary track, “Show Your Teeth,” opens with the words, “Talking just feels so ugly/c’mon and show your teeth” backed by an undulating, arpeggiated synth-bass. “Show Your Teeth” presents the antithetical, hook-driven writing that the band opts to use to pollinate their barren, electronic landscape. Other songs, like the progressive “Atlas” and “I Can’t Won’t Help You” — both incorporating diffused, machine-like experimental tendencies — employ the same motifs as “Show Your Teeth” but seem to wilt in comparison.
To the Christmas Lights’ credit, though, there are still bright moments on the record beyond that one song. The opening track, “Sign of Life,” does a brilliant job of setting the overarching themes of artificial or inorganic life that decorate much of this album to a visceral wash of electronica. Tompkins sings, “No sign of life / left in their eyes / No sign of life / left in mine,” as if to forewarn the listener to the curiously inanimate and caustic nature of Walk Like a Human.
“Born Young” is an opulent moment on the record, with an ascending melody in a major mode and lyrics and vocals alluding to, perhaps, a human side to all of the mechanical industry put forth on the album. Other tracks, “Interrogation Song” and “The Water is Gone, The Fire has Come!”, show experimental and hard house-style influences but fall short of being forward progress from the album’s centralized, minimal, and smooth textures.
This is a defining debut from a talented band, but sometimes it leaves too much out — it shines, but it does not sparkle. Though, given the scant production, complete use of synths and electronic drums, and the over-arching themes of an unnatural and counterfeit existence in the writing, perhaps that’s the effect desired. The gratifying subtle, dark, and conceptual album parades around under the guise of poppy incandescence, which gives Walk like a Human a delightfully deceptive shine.