Calum Robb, the 26-year-old producer of the New Zealand-based duet, Black City Lights, spurred himself into writing music by nothing more than causal curiosity and experimentation with a simple piece of software. Teaming up with 21-year-old vocalist Julia Catherine Parr, the synth testing that was the prototype stages of Black City Lights turned into something extraordinarily novel, but still so very recognizable. The airy, electric vortex set into motion by the gleaming, simplistic keys and evenly beating drums is so soaked in old-school neon grandeur that it feels, at times, like a love-letter written to the ‘80s in burning ink.
Black City Lights debuted their Parallels EP in March, catching everyone completely off guard with their musical professionalism and dusky, enveloping mood. By the end of their debut month, the duet found themselves signed under the New York City-based boutique, Stars and Letters, as well as entering into production for a video to one of their singles with We Are The Masses label—a company that manages, amongst many other artists, the strikingly similar Beach House.
Black City Lights shouldn’t be so surprised to find such avid love for their freshman effort. The Parallels EP bubbles with a stable minimalism yanking at whatever heartstring it can find. The electronic organs echo along the sonic booms of the discreet punk-rock style drums, assaulting the ears with a torrent of sensual audio-kisses. Parr’s powerful, moving vocals carry themselves with a maturity, knowing when to dispel limitless energy and when to hold back the emotions to tease the ears further. Black City Lights instantly hits all the right buttons with their opening track, “Parallels” setting up an impassioned, sensitive platform for the rest of the album to thrive. Parr pulls her lovely vocals in and out of space and time, reverberating the line “this could be us,” in the verses and chorus.
She vocalizes a wordless adoration at the close of the song, leaving behind an echoing, lonesome field of distant, stretched tones. The second track, “Rivers,” opens to this vacuum, slowly approaching with a tip-tapping drum and synth intro that is barely audible at first. The rest of the song pours down in an electric waterfall of basic keyboard oscillations, echoing their thick buzzes against each other and the simple strength of the drum track. Parr’s voice is thick with “Drive”-style ‘80s nostalgia, as it powers through with reserved verses that bleed out into scaling highs.
The instrumental third track, “Get Away,” plays more like a slow romantic house mix with thumping bass drums hoisted over grandiose, hesitant keyboard splashes. Parr fades in and out with mysterious, ghostly vocalizations, as the track flirts with a shapeless darkness. Black City Lights shines in the fourth and fifth tracks, “Collapsing Horizon,” and “Same,” achieving a rich scale of intricately arranged songs thrilling the ears with their sweetly moving hooks. “Collapsing Horizon,” sounds nearly identical to the spacey beauty of Beach House, complete with a grand drum track that drives the passion through the roof. The shrieking keys of the chorus ignite into a nebula of rushing emotion as Parr shouts “and it’s worth collapsing,” into the spinning chaos. That balanced, Beach House temperature blends with the masterful Black City Lights sound in “Same,”—an intense, pounding arrangement of shadowy hooks and infinitely reverberating mandolin tremolos. The stern, omnipotent bass track guides the plucky strings through the almost-hardcore slamming of the snare drum while Parr again shines with her modestly executed but infectiously dance-worthy lyrics. While the entirety of Parallels plays with an effortless genius, “Same,” stands out as a track singularly worthy of all the album’s praise.
The Parallels EP instantly ensnares the ears with its seductive electronic passion, and guides them through the melodious twenty-six minute catharsis. Practically stumbling into a life of music, Black City Lights serenades the synth-pop genre with gently flowing electronic waves, shrouding an evocative melody - glowing like a nighttime neon campfire in the glass-dust beach sands in another dimension.
3. Get Away
4. Collapsing Horizon