Many a band has been brought together through a mutual friend. So it was with live production and vocals duo Black City Lights – against the backdrop of a quintessential Wellington existence, selling art and jewellery, and making coffee. Around two years ago Calum Robb was looking to add a live vocal performance to a track, and met singer/songwriter (and Big River Chain band member) Julia Parr. The results were judged a success, and the collaboration endured.
Paired with good virtual studio software (lacking the funds for proper gear has proved little hindrance), Robb’s self-taught production skills and Parr’s lifetime spent singing lend themselves readily to individual expression. Further tracks recorded together turned into something quite entrancing.
‘Pop music with a dark twist,’ their bandcamp tagline, is a vast oversimplification of their cutting edge NZ electro sound. Initially Parr’s vocals first interpreted Robb’s compositions, but soon her natural talent was realised and an organic shift began shaping the tracks, her vocals highlighted as an important component in their overall appeal. Songwriting duties are now shared, each bringing strengths to their work.
Parr’s voice is both richly textured and sensuously expansive. Having ditched the bulky and noisy guitar pedals it is simply treated through Ableton Live to the almost obligatory reverb and delay, needing little else. Layered vocals shift effortlessly between major and minor keys, forming an aesthetic anchor, with the music responding, calling back, sombre and searching, or soaring atmospherically alongside her, above LFO landscapes and field recordings, all flowing to the unhurried tempo of reverberating kicks and chiming, percussive synth lines.
Unsurprisingly they have found an enthusiastic audience, and after numerous live shows supporting internationals in the last year, an EP and remixes thereof – both released during 2012 – they now have an album, ‘Another Life’, backed up with dates playing Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch during August. Then, it’s off on a massive three month tour up and down both coasts of the US. Other future plans include tours to Europe and Australia.
Released on Mark Roberts’ Stars and Letters label, and recorded at Wellington’s Blue Barn studios, with knobs twiddled by The Family Cactus, ‘Another Life’ is slickly mastered and perfect for these winter days, both sparse and textural at the same time. While no CDs are available, at upcoming shows, purchases of digital copies will be accompanied by a handmade artwork by Robb. They say they would love to see physical copies, but would prefer to have a vinyl release – if somehow they got a great placement, and the sky briefly rained money to fund it.