Wow, just listen to how little is required to create a deeply satisfying groove: keyboard, bass, drum. It helps that the keyboard is tracing a series of elegant, Stevie Wonder-ish chords and that the bass and drum are so tightly locked as to sound like one mysterious instrument, but still, I would send anyone who thinks music is about “making beats” to the first 22 seconds of “ETC.” Music is about making music.
That said, Francis and the Lights are a special case to begin with—an elusive ensemble trafficking in soulful postmodern minimalist funk, masterminded by Francis Farewell Starlite, about which not much more is known. Lots of musicians say they want their music to speak for itself but Starlite walks the walk. He doesn’t aim to be mysterious as much as straightforward, influenced, he has been happy to admit, by the classic writer’s guide The Elements of Style; in the spirit of “omitting needless words,” Starlite does not offer an online bio nor talk much about himself because he feels it comes across as “begging.”
Of course if more artists could manage Starlite’s singular style of succinct, emotive, genre-bending music, they too might find promotional talk unnecessary. As in previous visits here in 2008, Francis and the Lights spin a compelling song out of odd, ambiguous elements: verses like overheard inner arguments, hypnotic and diaphanous; a two-part, unresolved chorus linking a throaty question (“What will we do from here?”) with a soaring, inconclusive Beach Boys reference (“And will we be happy?”). One must be a gifted vocalist and songwriter to evoke Marvin Gaye and Brian Wilson within the span of one musical breath.
“ETC” is a single, as yet unconnected to a larger release. Thanks to Francis for the MP3.