Lights Out is surprising, sincere and, above all, a success.
Chris Lo 2011-09-02
Whenever a new, fashionably-attired boy/girl duo appears on the UK music scene, especially one as handsome as Big Deal’s Alice Costelloe and Kacey Underwood, certain Ting Tings-shaped nightmares are inescapable. It’s an involuntary style-over-substance association, just one of the unfortunate by-products of that pair’s 15 minutes of ubiquity. Luckily, Big Deal’s brand of layered guitars and fragile vocal interplay sits comfortably several leagues above the aforementioned nonsense, its melodies and lyrical themes becoming steadily more intoxicating with every listen.
On debut album Lights Out, Underwood and Costelloe have taken the bold decision to leave out any hint of a rhythm section, each track relying solely on the pair’s sparring guitars (a mix of strummed acoustics and shimmering electrics) and shared vocals. At first listen this seems a shame, especially as some of the album’s faster numbers (Chair, With the World at My Feet) would doubtless gain some extra crunch from the backing of a full band. With repeated listens, however, the wisdom of the decision is borne out, the sketch-like quality of the songs shining a brighter spotlight on the gorgeous melodies Big Deal are so frequently capable of delivering.
Costelloe takes the lead on vocals, which makes sense as the majority of the album’s tracks positively ache with a feminine and specifically teenage romantic yearning. High school days might be behind her, but these heartsick odes are delivered with such conviction that it’s clear these bittersweet memories are an abiding preoccupation rather than a calculated affectation. Lyrically, she’s set herself up as an indie rock Lolita, halfway between vulnerable teenager and precocious siren. "Take me to your bed, don’t take me home / I wanna be old, I wanna be older," she keens on Cool Like Kurt, and Homework finds a distracted Costelloe’s school grades sacrificed at the altar of obsession with some undisclosed paramour. She builds such a complete picture that Underwood’s somewhat forgettable voice suffers by comparison on the tracks where he takes the reins (Pi, Summer Cold). His vocal contribution seems to work best as a support and counterpoint to Costelloe’s starring role.
Far from any negative presumptions, Big Deal have crafted a winning debut of lovelorn late-summer gems, taking their cues from the sunny melancholy of Best Coast or the emphatic melodies of Giant Drag, the latter’s irreverence replaced with an earnest portrait of love at its youngest and most fragile. Whether for its bounty of warm guitar textures or for its still-rare insight into a distinctly female perspective on young love, Lights Out is surprising, sincere and, above all, a success.