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Album Review: “The Endless Prom” by Trouble Lights

Trouble Lights

Trouble Lights

Trouble Lights is an electronic pop duo from Fairfield, IA. Adrien Daller and Philip Rabalais (both of whom contribute their respective talents to a myriad of other groups) have been working together for quite awhile, but “The Endless Prom” is their first proper release as a pair.

Philip Rabalais is most well known for his beat-making work in the electro-punk band Utopia Park. Yet he’s also working on a project with Darla Murphy called Animal, and his work has appeared on albums by Little Ruckus and Zoe Boekbinder.

Adrien Daller is perhaps one of the most well-trained singers in the state — having worked in musical theater in England and even singing “God Save the Queen” for the Queen of England.

That these two creative forces have found each other is proof of Iowa’s growing cultural clout, but let’s move on to the record itself.

First and foremost, the track sequencing is tremendously important. Although any “concept” is more or less absent, this is still clearly an album, with a purposeful ordering. There’s no narrative, but the tracks are sequenced in such a way as to allow for the listener to imagine their own contexts.

It’s that very balance between the audience and the artist that reveals one of “The Endless Prom” central questions — that is, the question of mass appeal versus personal connection.

The topic, which runs underneath the whole album, is particularly noticeable on stand-out track “Fire Night.” The song is addressed to an unnamed “you,” to whom Adrien sings, “You watch yourself become someone else,” instantly blurring the line between her and the listener. This conflation of “singer” and “audience” is at the heart of the record (and perhaps at the heart of all pop music, but that’s a conversation for another day).

On “Safe With Me,” by far the best song on altogether fine album, moves away from the “you and I” language of most of the rest of the album. Instead, the lyrics address a “little boy” and a “little girl,” promising to keep them safe. That the lead single exists in the world of children is indicative of another theme of the album — regression. Pop music is inherently regressive, of course, but the genius of Trouble Lights’ music is how it uses regression as a shifting framework, letting the artist appear to regress and therefore allowing the audience to simply enjoy the music.

Regression is also central to the creation of the album. In a recent interview with Iowa Music Buzz, Philip alludes to this, saying, “I want to forever be this 13 year old nerd kid, making beats on my computer. Adrien is always this anxious, emotional teenage girl singing her heart out.”

But the great thing is, this is not regressive music at all. Adrien’s performances are clearly informed by her extensive vocal training. Phil’s production is clean, but never sterile; inventive, yet always accessible. But the duo are still chiefly concerned with the universality of pop music, what it means to make and listen to popular music, all the while creating personal connections with ever-growing crowds.

“The Endless Prom” is available for pre-order now at Maximum Ames Records and will be released on September 25, 2012.

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