Issue #9: Falling Off The Lavender Bridge by Lightspeed Champion

March 28, 2016

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Falling Off The Lavender Bridge by Lightspeed Champion
Released On January 21, 2008
Released By Domino Records

This Week’s Selection Chosen By James Peart

I first heard Falling Off The Lavender Bridge back upon its release in 2008 when I was twenty years old. At that time in my life, I was still powering through university and had become involved in the student radio station, producing a couple of shows and presenting my own Monday evening show (later winning “Best Male Newcomer” at our own student radio awards, which has no bearing on this story but it’s about time I celebrated this).

We of course received a weekly supply of albums and singles sent into us to use and that’s when I first came upon Lightspeed Champion. I had no clue who they were but my close friend and fellow radio presenter got very excited. He explained to me how Dev Hynes, the man behind Lightspeed Champion, used to be in a band called Test Icicles, a short-lived dance punk band whose only album he absolutely loved. He also excitedly exclaimed how NME Magazine had just awarded Lightspeed Champion’s record a 9/10. So we took it home and listened to it. Then we listened to it again. And again.

I fell in love with Falling Off The Lavender Bridge.

The beautiful thing about music is its innate ability to stick with you throughout the years and even come to define a period of your life. I would struggle to recall to you now what I did five months ago, or certain periods of 2013. But the memory of sitting in my student house, with my friend, devouring every track of this record has stayed with me for almost a decade.

Dev Hynes didn’t much like the music he made in Test Icicles, his first band. Once the band split in 2006, Hynes decided to record under the name Lightspeed Champion. He recorded Falling Off The Lavender Bridge in Nebraska with the help of Mike Mogis of Bright Eyes. Hynes has described the album as being in two halves, showcasing a mixture of his dreams and life experiences. You can feel this notion pouring out of every track. This is a deeply personal album that strongly resonates with me. Maybe it’s that sense of youthful disillusionment that oozes out of most lyrics that so deeply pulled me in all those years ago.

But with all that aside, this is a terrifically produced record. Musically, it has it all. Violins, clarinets, pianos, cello, a choir, and probably its greatest secret weapon, Emmy The Great. Her backing vocals on the majority of the tracks elevate the album to a whole new level. I could write a whole lot more about Emmy, but her time will come on Off Your Radar for sure. In the meantime, I wholly recommend seeking out her solo records.

Whilst it’s difficult for me to pick out some of my favourite tracks since I love this album from top to bottom, I do recommend Galaxy Of The Lost and “No Surprise (For Wendela)/Midnight Surprise,” two tracks that wholly define everything I’ve previously spoke of: personal lyrics, excellent production, and Emmy The Great.

Following this record, Hynes released one more album under the Lightspeed Champion moniker, 2010’s Life Is Sweet! Nice To Meet You, which is also excellent. After this he retired Lightspeed Champion to focus on Blood Orange, his new project that focuses on R&B and electronica. Whilst I’m not as enamored with Blood Orange as I am Lightspeed Champion, the two albums he’s released so far are definitely worth checking out.

Dev Hynes is a unique artist, capable of managing both American and British roots in his music without compromising on his own voice. Falling Off The Lavender Bridge will always be one of my favourite records, and I hope showcasing it this week provides it with the platform for many more to enjoy.

James Peart (@choccyr)
Fascinated Binger Of Musical Zeitgeist

Dev Hynes after being asked what genre Lightspeed Champion falls under.

Beginning with a brief instrumental steel-guitar flourish, Falling Off The Lavender Bridge threw me for a bit of a loop. After all, this is the first solo effort from Dev Hynes, the electronic artist known as Blood Orange, producer of Solange Knowles and Theophilus London, author of Sky Ferreira’s depressed pop classic, “Everything Is Embarrassing.” There are a few different things I was expecting to hear when I put this record on, but none of them were what I got. It makes more sense, though, once you check the production credits on this album. Recorded in Omaha, Nebraska with Bright Eyes member Mike Mogis at the helm, the studio incarnation of Lightspeed Champion features members of such Saddle Creek superstars as Cursive, The Faint, and Tilly And The Wall. This surely accounts for the vaguely Cursive/Good Life-ish tinge that colors the songs found here. Having said that, what really comes through here is a Beatlesque effort to incorporate symphonic arrangements into a songwriting template that is profoundly rooted in pop. The result is a bit like XTC’s Skylarking, an album I’ve been journeying back into recently to rewarding effect. Strings are joined by clarinet, flute, and oboe — but these instruments still take a back seat to Hynes himself, who between his ineffable pop melodies and striking vocals manages to brilliantly dominate a show and prove that he was a star from the beginning. His personal perspective comes across in as clear and unique a manner here as it does on his later efforts, with titles like “All To Shit,” “Devil Tricks For A Bitch,” and “Everyone I Know Is Listening To Crunk” showing that this is far from just another second-tier release in the Saddle Creek galaxy. Blood Orange gets a lot of attention now, but Lightspeed Champion’s 2008 album demonstrates that the attention was always merited, even before it was necessarily given by all that many.

Drew Necci (@buzzorhowl)
Insightful Scholar Of The Underground

Lavender is just a shade of purple: Dev Hynes might be indie rock’s Prince. From shredding guitar with Test Icicles to his most obvious Prince-esk project Blood Orange, he’s morphed genres and proven himself a great modern pop songsmith. Lightspeed Champion is the least purple sounding of his projects, but the fact that he can crush a couple Okkervil River inspired mid-00s-indie-rock-before-people-wore-vests-and-said-HEY!-all-the-time before he’s all like “forget it” just further proves my Prince analogy. If I’m losing you just look at all that success others have had with his songs. I’m looking forward to whatever his next shift might be.

PJ Sykes (@pjsykes)
Gutsy Punk Renaissance Man

Emotional pageantry. Inward gaze. Nocturnal emissions. Falling Off The Lavender Bridge is a twisted-up world of fantasy and frustration before a gorgeous backdrop of cycling refrains and orchestration. It’s a bit like what would happen if Nick Drake wrote Pinkerton, or if Rivers Cuomo wrote Bryter Layter. I find it as winsome as it is melodramatic. In fact, the entire record feels like it’s taking place on a strange stage with the spotlight on Devonté Hynes. Case in point with the “Galaxy Of The Lost” video which is bookended by Hynes cradling a kitten having survived an acid-trip Sesame Street world full of fluffy monsters. Towards the middle of the record, we are treated to a matryoshka doll of a song with “Midnight Surprise” — a single, ten-minute track whose acts and sprawl embody the feel of the entire record. With Saddle Creek production captain Mike Mogis at the helm, there’s no doubt Hynes takes a few cues from the Bright Eyes camp, but his vocals present more warmth and less scraggle than Oberst’s. It strikes me more like the clearer moments from other British folk-pop troubadours like Badly Drawn Boy. Flourishes of strings, pedal steel, and vocal harmonies provide sophistication and earnestness to each plea of heartache, so they become artful and endearing. This is a confident chamber pop opera with its heart firmly planted on its sleeve.

Matt Klimas (@nearcticfauna)
Surveyor Of All Things Fuzz

This is Dev Hynes?!?!? I have a tendency to get really into albums without ever digging into the artists themselves. So, as a huge fan of Blood Orange’ Cupid Deluxe, I thought I knew what to expect from another Dev Hynes project. Whatever I was expecting from Lightspeed Champion, this definitely wasn’t it. But I mean that in the best possible way. He’s channeling a very specific brand of pop here, the sun-poking-through-a-cloudy-afternoon kind. It reminds me of lazy days listening to Phantom Planet in high school. But we’re dealing with a higher level of lyrical and melodic sophistication. “Fuck, I think she just saw me / stop hiding in the sea / Shit, my midnight surprise / has found out all my lines,” Hynes panics on the nerve-wracking “Midnight Surprise“, a track where the raw lyrical outpouring perfectly melds with the claustrophobic melody. But really, nothing can compare to when my dude drops Maid In Manhattan as a relationship signpost in the fuck-this-is-relatable-as-hell “Never Meant to Hurt You” (Editor’s Note: Featured on the acoustic bonus disc for the more ambitious listeners out there). I think that’s what clicks with me on this whole project. Even though at its core, it’s an hour of personal, emotional baggage, yet it manages to still feel universal. And if it’s not always exactly hopeful, it never feels like just wallowing. You can cry to it, or drive to the beach to it. I think I might do both.

Josh Buck (@altq42)
Devout Pop Music Purist

I’ve never had an album smack me across the face upon listening like I just did with Lightspeed Champion’s Falling Off The Lavender Bridge. I loved this record as soon as it started playing and it brought so many different emotions during its forty-three minutes and twenty-six seconds. By the time I got to “Midnight Surprise,” I was already dancing in my chair along to the music. But then songs like “Devil Tricks For A Bitch” and “Dry Lips” lull me into a nice relaxed state of mind. Falling Off The Lavender Bridge is probably my favorite discovery since starting with Off Your Radar. It’s a record that I can just put on and easily enjoy from start to finish.

Andrew Cothern (@rvaplaylist)
Beloved & Influential Richmond Chronicler

Click to watch the puppet filled video for “Galaxy Of The Lost.”

Playing out like a PG & heartwarming predecessor to Don’t Hug Me I’m Scared. Google at your own risk.

I saw Dev Hynes live once in his current guise as Blood Orange and was fairly enraptured by his intimate songs, explosive guitar playing, and skilled laptop beats. Hilariously, I remember thinking “Isn’t this what Lightspeed Champion should sound like?” Then I realized they were the same guy. But besides a few singles, most notably “S’Cooled” (still a party mix fave), I’ve not really connected with his records. In fact, in my estimation, 2013’s Cupid Deluxe was a comedown after Coastal Grooves, the debut album. But I’ve kept with him, noting his sideline as a hit-making co-writer for Solange Knowles, et cetera. So I was curious as I had not revisited the Lightspeed Champion records since Hynes retired the persona. I found Falling Off The Lavender Bridge to be a seriously accomplished record, with Mike Mogis’s elaborate production giving it a classic feel. As Champion, Hynes wrote confessional songs in a folk-rock vein, singing them sweetly in his dry tenor and keeping a straight face even when they were called “Everyone I Know Is Listening To Crunk.” So there’s an element of subversion here, as the hard edges of some of the lyrics (and titles like “Let The Bitches Die“) contrast with lovely music reminiscent of Love and Belle and Sebastian. I must confess, however, that I didn’t try too hard to parse Hynes’s pursuit of postmodern street cred, finding the surface of Lavender Bridge so pleasant and involving that I just decided to float there without diving too deep.

Jeremy Shatan (@anearful)
Prescient & Appreciative Musical Omnivore

Since Dev Hynes has released records, music writers and critics have tried to define him. Test Icicles were the work of new voices in British art rock. Since Lightspeed Champion was signed to Saddle Creek, Hynes became “the next Bright Eyes.” His genre-creating work as a producer and songwriter signaled the emergence of a brilliant new sound. Hynes’ project Blood Orange means he is a master of 80s pop and electronica. What I love so much about Dev Hynes is that he says “fuck you” to each label thrown on him and continues to challenge himself and his work as a whole. More than anything, Falling Off The Lavender Bridge seems like a talented musician exploring what it means to be a songwriter — the vocals seem almost incidental (he has said he prefers Sky Ferreira and Solange singing his songs). I hadn’t listen to the record in years, because it seemed so far removed from the Blood Orange music I adore, but it helped me understand him better. During songs like “All To Shit,” I would get flashes of the releases of great Swedish indie label Labrador, as Hynes’ sometimes juvenile, often sweet, lyrics and folky tendencies are very Pelle Carlberg-esque. I was most impressed with Bridge‘s dynamics and how listenable it is. Single “Galaxy Of The Lost” full of big moments, Emmy the Great delivers wonderful backing vocals throughout, and the added strings make the whole sound more lush and powerful. If you like the current work of Hynes as much as I do, a walk through his past musical projects can help you trace his fascinating evolution.

Melissa Koch (@bunnycaper)
Mediocre Runner, Aspiring Celebrity DJ

I. Love. This. Record. I don’t like country music. At all. None of it. Not Johnny Cash. Not Hank Williams (not the old one, or the Monday Night Football one). None of it. So my radar immediately went up when I heard the twang of the slide guitar on the aptly titled “Number One.” I thought, “Oh shit, we’ve got to review a country record. How am I possibly going to say something nice about this?” Fast forward about forty-five minutes and I feel really bad about those initial thoughts. Falling Off The Lavender Bridge is an audio gumbo that excites the senses, and pokes at your preconceived notions of what constitutes an album. If you have to ask yourself “What the hell am I listening to,” that can either be a really good thing or an extremely bad thing. In the case of Lightspeed Champion, it’s meant in the best possible way. The slide guitar is omnipresent, but the vocals are sort of punk rock-ish in that super catchy, accessible Blink-182 way. Take the album’s apex, “Midnight Surprise” for example. Throughout the ten minute opus, I questioned if this was a rock record, a country record, or a Broadway musical. The mid-song lullaby refrain of “break up princess” sealed the deal for me. I. Love. This. Record. The lyrics are awkward, funny and at times outlandish. “Devil Tricks For A Bitch” features a man at war with his guitar, and a killer string arrangement. “What the hell am I listening to?!” Someone tried to categorize Lightspeed Champion, and they jumped off a lavender bridge in protest.

Kellen “J. Clyde” Ford (@jclyde757)
Steadfast Hip-Hop Historian & Creator

This is a record that triumphs in its ability to keep you on your toes for close to an hour. For those well-versed in Hynes’ career, it’s not necessarily noteworthy until you realize that he does it with genres that typically offer few, if any, substantial surprises. Put on an Americana album and at its best, you still mostly know what you’re going to get from start to finish. Here though, Hynes revels in his ability to jolt your wistful journey with abrupt style interchanges and rugged lyrics showing off his acerbic wit. Songs like “I Could Have Done This Myself” and “Devil Tricks For A Bitch” pull this off brilliantly, but the shining example is obviously “Midnight Surprise,” a song so utterly glorious that it’s painful how underappreciated it was almost a decade ago. It serves as a blueprint to the type of musical labyrinth Hynes has created on Lavender Bridge, one that is shockingly easy to become lost in due to its chameleon familiarity. For me, the music takes on the guise of a much-improved Mikel Jollett and offers a cathartic introduction into Hynes’ world of pioneering and antithetical sonic visions. This approach makes lines like “I’ve dreamt about this / so many times before” on “Salty Water” so impactful late in the record and makes it seem as if Hynes is addressing the listener while also baring his soul. There are so many advanced musical and lyrical concepts on display here, but Hynes never let any of them steer the record away from a relaxed feeling of intimacy. Unlike many of his peers at the same time, he doesn’t let his ambitions and imagination run wild, instead making a record that can be enjoyed from fans looking for deeper meaning in music all the way down to those just looking to tap their toe for an hour.

Doug Nunnally (@musicdoug)
Garrulous Aural Braggart

Hynes with Florence Welch (minus The Machine) who actually joined his touring band for this record.

The story of Dev Hynes is a fascinating one. After the short-lived existence of his group Test Icicles, Hynes ventured to Omaha, Nebraska to make a record under the guise of Lightspeed Champion. As many may know, Omaha is the home of Saddle Creek Records and Hynes would work on Falling Off The Lavender Bridge with producer Mike Mogis (famed for his involvement with Bright Eyes). The project would reflect an entirely different approach for Hynes. With Test Icicles, the band dabbled in dance punk and incorporated a variety of different genres. With Lightspeed Champion, Hynes ventured more into the world of folk and indie rock. This is apparent with the variety of instrumentation on display and several of the themes the record touches upon. Hynes has gone as far as to describe the record as incorporating two halves with one reflecting his life experiences and the other half being his dreams. “I Could Have Done This Myself” is a song that blends a bit of both worlds in how it recants the troublesome experience of losing one’s virginity and how one might reflect on that in the years that pass. “Dry Lips” reflects on the last time Hynes could recall being hungover. The experiences shared throughout have a whimsical aesthetic that reflects the music greatly as well. On lead single “Galaxy Of The Lost,” Hynes introduces this world through vivid fears of what dangers surround him. In some cases, this is a return to alcoholism. In others, it’s that he is much more fragile than he is prepared to understand. In the music video for this song, Hynes is joined by a kitten at the start. In mere moments, this animal is replaced by a series of bizarre puppets. It allows the listener to enter the mind of Hynes as he continues to confuse what is real and what is fantasy. Even in the title of the record, the lavender is a reference to a toy frog that was given to him by his mother as a sleeping aide. Similar to many of Hynes’ other projects, Lightspeed Champion would soon end after damage to his throat and extensive surgeries to follow. For this release though, it carries a special feeling. An outsider enters this budding independent collective and engages its scene to create a beautiful record. Falling Off The Lavender Bridge features members of Cursive, The Faint, and Bright Eyes, all staples of the Saddle Creek roster and artists that would go to craft wonderful music for years to come. For Hynes, there must have been something that drew him to this city and the connection he immediately began to feel with a producer like Mogis. It doesn’t happen that often, but when it does, records like Falling Off The Lavender Bridge come into existence and we are all the more thankful for it.

Shannon Cleary (@thatssocleary)
Musical Explorer Of All Angles

One of these days, I’m going to get around to writing my book about how heightened expectations about things ruin everything, and conversely about how lowered or realistic expectations make things better. I wouldn’t say that I pressed play on Falling Off The Lavender Bridge with lowered expectations, per se. I just thought it was going to be rap. I had a pretty distinct picture of the kind of rap it was going to be too. It was going to be British rap in the vein of Dizzee Rascal. The track names (e.g. “Devil Tricks For A Bitch, Everyone I Know Is Listening To Crunk, Let The Bitches Die” and “All To Shit“) did nothing to dissuade this expectation. So imagine my surprise when I turned it on and some of the catchiest — what genre is this?? Power pop? — well whatever it is, some of the catchiest music I’ve heard in a long time comes on. It has acoustic guitar, introspective but really funny lyrics, musicality coming out of its ears. And then “Midnight Surprise” came on. I know I’m not going to be the only person in this newsletter to talk about how this song destroys. It’s basically a ten minute opus that glues you to your speakers. If this album was comprised entirely of cheesy skits and this song, it would be a great album. And there’s not a cheesy skit in sight! Instead, it’s more of the same amazing music bursting into my eardrums. This album is fantastic, but it was made even better by my complete misdirected expectations.

James Anderson (@unabashedjames)
Devoted Docent Of Musical Concepts

To the casual listener, Lightspeed Champion’s Falling Off The Lavender Bridge could feel very much like a product of its time. It has an air of mid-2000s British indie until you peel away the layers of what makes up the record, realizing it’s much more than the sum of its parts. This shouldn’t come as a surprise with song titles such as “All To Shit” or scratching the surface a little deeper in “Midnight Surprise” with the lyrics “Fuck, I think she just saw me / stop hiding in the sea / Shit, my midnight surprise / has found out all my lines.” There’s a quirky sensibility that resonates throughout. The album never really deviates from its chosen path with laconic wit punctuating some amusing lyrics, no more evident than in “Devil Tricks For A Bitch” where the “N” word is dropped with little warning, before the even more left field “sketchy motherfucker” line which made me chuckle. There is some contrast with half of the album being beautifully painted with pleasant vocals from Emmy The Great. This gives a refreshing harmony to songs like “Galaxy Of The Lost” and “Dry Lips.” As the album comes to its conclusion, Dev Hynes starts to draw striking vocal parallels to Badly Drawn Boy. What makes Hynes musically similar is his use of less indie-centric instrumental elements in the form of pianos, violins, cellos, oboe, and flutes. All this leaves a mellow warmth that wraps the crisp biting lyrics with some real punch and not just a guitar laden piece of art.

Matt Green (@happymad1986)
Fiery Orator Of Nostalgia

Lightspeed Champion, aka Blood Orange, aka Dev Hynes has been pretty prominent in the indiesphere for the past few years, both as a performer and songwriter. He’s had a hand in some of the best songs for artists like Sky Ferreira (“Everything Is Embarrassing“), Solange (True EP), FKA Twigs (“Hours“), and current critical pop darling Carly Rae Jepsen (“All That“). Most of that oeuvre, as well as his current project Blood Orange, are very R&B/pop-influenced, so imagine my complete surprise when I put on Falling Off The Lavender Bridge and hear a melange of baroque/folk/pop/country. Its sound reminded me of Sufjan Stevens pre-Age Of Adz, albeit with Sufjan’s utter sincerity tempered by Dev’s more cynical cleverness; but considering that Sufjan is one of my favorite artists of all time, I was pretty much guaranteed to love this too. Ten minute album centerpiece “Midnight Surprise” is masterful — the song length doesn’t even register as it moves into new variations just as interesting and captivating as the last. “Dry Lips” is a great folk-pop song with just the right amount of oboe, flute, and clarinet fluttering at the edges. And album closer “No Surprise (For Wendela)/Midnight Surprise” fades away in strings and woodwinds like the end of a dream. There’s honestly so much more I wish I could include here, because the arrangements are truly beautiful. It’s interesting, unexpected, and full of great production details that will keep me listening for a long time to come.

David Munro (@david_c_munro)
Idiosyncratic Avant-Garde Wanderer

There’s a super-specific feeling I got listening to Lightspeed Champion this week, and I usually associate this feeling with people. When you meet someone you can’t believe you’ve never met before — someone who listens to the same music and knows the same people and maybe even has some of your mannerisms — it’s a special kind of uncanny. Like there’s a parallel universe you missed joining at some point in the past. That was my first trip through Falling Off The Lavender Bridge. The reason for this uncanny feeling has since became clear — Mike Mogis, the longtime Bright Eyes collaborator and producer who also produced Lavender Bridge. His fingerprints are all here: Americana elements blended with just enough distortion for there to be a menacing undertone, the distant-sounding pedal steel, background vocals doubled an octave up and turned down in the mix, so they’re felt more than heard…”Midnight Surprise” has it all, and Dev Hynes proves to be a perfect Mogis muse. His delivery has an edge that makes the pretty stuff prettier — especially the string arrangements — and the pretty stuff creates a clean, sophisticated backdrop that makes his voice and cutting language grittier by comparison. This strikes me as really interesting, because it’s dawning on me that this complementary, sweet/sour relationship was always there with Bright Eyes and I didn’t take notice. So often, when things are done just right, you don’t even realize they exist.

Davy Jones (@youhearthat)
Idealistic Seeker Of Neoteric Sounds

Next Week’s Selection:
Two Suns by Bat For Lashes
Chosen By David Munro

Off Your Radar Newsletter

Editor: Doug Nunnally

Contributors: James Anderson, Josh Buck, Shannon Cleary, Andrew Cothern, Kellen “J. Clyde” Ford, Matt Green, Davy Jones, Matt Klimas, Melissa Koch, David Munro, Drew Necci, James Peart, Jeremy Shatan, & PJ Sykes

Logo By Matt Klimas


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