Capturing the sound of a band that's still evolving‚ Animals In Bloom is a fitting title for Big Light's debut album. On the surface‚ Animals offers the instant appeal of carefree pop-rock in the spirit of 20th century radio‚ when groups made catchy‚ relevant music that sounded great in a dive bar or a school bus. But deeper digging reveals a sonically exploratory side that sets Big Light apart from past radio rockers.
Each track could potentially be a straightforward three-minute pop song‚ carried by burly riffs and songwriter Fred Torphy's smooth vocals alone. But Big Light often builds their songs beyond the single-worthy comfort zone‚ adding alternative percussion and lengthy instrumentals to harmonized backing vocals and traditional choruses. The resulting collection of songs sounds instantly accessible‚ but also has rewarding Easter eggs hidden for those who listen closely. For example‚ the first time I heard "Departed‚" I was underwhelmed by verse two's seemingly random opening lyrics. Several listens later‚ I realized the first two lines of the song's first verse rhyme with the first two of the second verse‚ making sense as pieces of the collective puzzle.
Big Light constantly switch moods on Animals‚ bouncing from slow and sentimental to fast and celebratory‚ from basic to complex with impressive ease. In about a dozen minutes‚ the album's mid-section takes listeners from the pensive piano balladry of "Panther‚" to the upbeat sing-along and blatant guitar solo rocker "Superfuzz Fine‚" back down to "Departed‚" an ooo-whop-whop laced lighter raiser. What's most impressive about Animals is how short Big Light's long songs feel. Tracks like "Bonebreaker‚" that mix pop sensibilities and experimental layering‚ will leave you scratching your head asking yourself‚ "Holy crap‚ was that song really eight minutes long?" If only Metallica would stop suing their fans and adding four and ½ minutes of noodling to every song long enough to recognize what their fellow Californians are up to. The animals are still blooming‚ but so far they're developing quite nicely.