Lydia - Paint It Golden
I could go on about all of the ways Paint It Golden fails to live up to Illuminate - the lyrics aren't as strong, the music isn't as layered and rich, the songs are more repetitive and predictable structurally - but the fact remains that, despite these shortcomings, Paint It Golden is still, in my opinion, a very good album and, really, there isn't much reason to be disappointed in it. Sure, it doesn't touch Illuminate but what possibly could? That was a perfect album that gripped me and wracked me emotionally at the perfect time, a once in a lifetime listening experience that is rarely replicated, particularly by the same band. Taking that into consideration as well as realizing that, at this time last year, Lydia no longer even existed, Paint It Golden is far more than a fan could expect or ask for. Though, as a studio band, Lydia now consists only of frontman Leighton Antelman and drummer Craig Taylor, along with the invaluable assistance of producer Matt Malpass, Paint It Golden still sounds surprisingly like the work of a full band. It may only occasionally rival the expansive swells and crescendos of Illuminate but this seems to be a deliberate choice and not a side effect of the band's reduction. Songs like "Seasons" and "Birds," built on multi-layered harmonies and slowly-building instrumental sections, sound full and lush; the former particularly sounds like a lost Illuminate track, though slightly more upbeat. In fact, the overall biggest difference here is that, though the lyrics remain rather depressing, this is a lighter, more major-key version of Lydia. The majority of the first half of the album is overtly poppy; some of it is excellent ("Dragging Your Feet in the Mud") and some of it is just okay - "Get It Right" and "Best Nights" are catchy, highly enjoyable tracks but they also illustrate the album's biggest problems, namely the fact that they sound a bit too surface and glossy as well as Antelman's occasional tendency toward lazy lyrics that seem to depend on curse words in place of something deeper (for example, the chorus of "Best Nights:" "On my way home/Still wishing I was inside your bedroom/Just talking shit for the hell of it/Yeah, on the best nights/So hurry up, hurry up/Goddamn, this just feels right"). The second half of the album, on the other hand, contains some of the best songs he's ever written. "I'll Bite You" and "Skin+Bones" are very simple musically but reveal far more depth and emotion than some of the earlier tracks and their simplicity allows Antelman's unique voice to shine through. "Ghosts" is probably the biggest highlight, musically, lyrically and vocally. Here, Antelman finally allows his vocals to soar like they did on the biggest choruses of Illuminate and the lyrics leave a meaningful impact, making the earlier inconsistencies in that department even more baffling: "I just followed the birds right to the coast/Hoping she would follow my footsteps like some kind of ghost/Whispering close,/'We're not here for long, let's live for this week/'Cause I'm so goddamn sick of losing my sleep'/She'll be my defeat." I feel like I may have ended up making more points against Paint It Golden than for it but that's only because I hold the band to such impossibly high standards. Even if this album failed to live up to those expectations completely, I do still genuinely love it and any complaints are just minor nitpicks on my part. In the end, Paint It Golden really cannot be compared to Illuminate at all, because they're very different albums and both have very different, but no less vital, things to offer.