Album Review: Lydia, “Devil”

Lydia, “Devil”
Released independently on March 19, 2013
Produced by Colby Wedgeworth and Lydia

Rating: 6.5/10

Leighton Antelman, the frontman of Lydia, has a penchant for drama. This is evident by listening to virtually any song that Lydia has ever released, or by knowing anything about the turbulent history of the Arizona band. After releasing the much-adored Illuminate in 2008, an album that saw the band perfecting the balance between angst and prettiness, their dramatic tendencies overtook them. Mindy White left; Antelman announced that he and Steve McGraw, fellow founding members of Lydia, were no longer interested in playing music together, and so the band was breaking up, and Assailants would be “the last recordings ever put out” by Lydia; there would be a farewell tour, which McGraw backed out of, and the DVD footage recorded for the tour would eventually be lost in a hard drive crash.

The band returned, of course – although without McGraw – and the drama that used to define Lydia’s music seemed to subside. Antelman’s vocals and lyrics began to sound… sunny. I doubt that any fan of Illuminate, upon its release five years ago, could’ve foreseen Antelman singing anything along the lines of, “I like your style, I like your style. Let’s just have some fun.” But that’s exactly what happens on the opening track of Devil, “The Exit,” which will go down as one of the poppiest tracks the band has ever recorded. This sugary-sweetness surfaces again on “Runaway” and “Hurry Back Tonight,” and while these soaring choruses find Antelman sounding more secure than ever, they will certainly take some getting used to for the band’s longtime followers.

None of this is to say that Antelman has lost his flair for the dramatic – “Knee Deep” and “Take Your Time” are proof that Lydia’s former moodiness can still be conjured up when the time is right. These two tracks are the highlight of Devil, the former serving as the album’s shortest proper song but wielding more power and intrigue than any of the cheery cuts that surround it. “Take Your Time” is almost theatrical – the verses are tense and Antelman sounds like he’s about to crack, but when the chorus hits, the music loosens up, and he sounds like he’s made peace with his demons (“Now I’m never sure if I’m coming or going, but I don’t look for her, I can’t look for her; I guess I love not knowing”). In an album full of breezy songs, “Take Your Time” is a punch to the throat, and it represents everything that Lydia does best: the effortless glide from tension to tranquility, the angelic harmonies, and the feeling that every word Antelman sings is of dire importance to his sanity and well-being.

Part of the reason that “Take Your Time” and “Knee Deep” leave such an impact on the listener is because they sound so urgent – a trait that is missing from the rest of the album. “Back to Bed” is the antithesis of urgency, and its lyrics verge on painful: “Then she looked right at me, and said, ‘God, I love how you say that. It sounds so epic.’ She goes, ‘All your friends will be waiting, so just come back to bed.’” It’s too empty and trivial a song for its position at the dead center of the album, and its only saving grace is the delightful whistling that wraps it up – I’ve always found the successful use of whistling in place of lead vocals to be a difficult feat. “Now I Know” is a brooding interlude that revives several refrains from previous songs, and while it leads nicely into “Take Your Time,” I find myself frowning whenever it begins to play; it’s unnecessary filler, especially for an album this short.

I don’t mean to sound as if I only appreciate Lydia’s music when it’s fast and urgent, though. “Holidays” is a lovely mid-tempo number that brings to mind the dog days of summer; it features delightfully personal lyrics, a swirling guitar solo, and a sing-along climax during the bridge. When viewed along with the album’s title track, as well as closing song “From A Tire Swing,” it’s evident that Lydia have become quite proficient at crafting light, low-stress, mid-tempo songs with the just the tiniest dash of drama to create some mystery.

Leighton Antelman is no longer the haunted, tightly strung troubadour that he was during Illuminate, and aside from himself and drummer Craig Taylor, Lydia is an entirely different band than they were in 2008. Thematically, too, Lydia’s music seems to have different priorities than it did back then – an element of celebration and acceptance is threaded throughout Devil, replacing the mourning and loss that their music is commonly associated with. So maybe Antelman writes the occasional bad lyric and relies a bit too heavily on bells and whistles (or, more specifically, tambourines and shakers), and maybe a couple of these songs fall short of their intentions; but Devil is not a bad album by any means. Can we really blame the band for settling down? Surely it’s exhausting to remain tortured souls forever.

-Matt R. Metzler