Album of the Week: Francis and the Lights, 'Just for Us'

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Francis and the Lights, 'Just for Us'
Francis and the Lights, 'Just for Us' (Courtesy of artist)
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Francis and the Lights have been vaulted to fame over the last few years, largely on the strength of his friendship and collaborations with folks such as Justin Vernon, Kanye West, and Chance the Rapper. The performance of "Friends" at the 2016 Eaux Claires festival, featuring guest appearances from Chance and Vernon, became an instant YouTube sensation. The new album, Just for Us, arrived as a surprise at the very tail end of 2017.

One of the biggest initial impressions from Francis Farewell Starlite is that voice is often an uncanny simulacrum of classic-period Peter Gabriel and Phil Collins; every piece about Francis and the Lights tends to mention this fact, as it's one of the clearest influences exhibited by any contemporary performer. With this instantly-evocative feature built in, Starlite's tunes can vary from synth-heavy to solo piano. In contrast to their previous album, Farewell Starlite!, Just for Us leans on a very minimalistic sound, giving the air of something he whipped up with some keyboards in his bedroom one afternoon. That isn't a bad thing, as all of these songs sound like a brief emotional snapshot, whose impact would perhaps have been lessened had they been subjected to a more rigorous recording process.

Justin Vernon, who has long been one of Francis' most vocal boosters, returns on the lush title track "Just for Us," which is clearly the spotlight track on the album. With the rest of the songs clocking in at about two minutes each, and a full running time of about 26 minutes, it would be fair to at least theorize that Just for Us could be framed as an extended EP surrounding the title cut. But the rest of the songs are engaging in their own little ways, whether through simple loops, piano licks, or specific lyrical conceits. On this basis, Just for Us is a nice little jolt of uplift to ease us into a new year.

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