“Nightlight” combines a sweeping, Annie Lennox-like sheen with a compressed, laptop-rock sensibility, and lives to tell about it. An explicit verse-chorus structure is surrendered in favor of an interwoven A/B/sort-of-A structure and a succinct, recurring, cumulatively magnetic melodic hook: that five-interval leap we hear right near the beginning (0:06), and repeatedly throughout. Singer Jenn Wasner—well-known in indie circles as half of the Baltimore duo Wye Oak—sets free her inner blue-eyed-soul singer, giving voice in this side project to a fuller, deeper, more melismatic vocal style than employed in her home band, in which she has typically sounded duskier and reverb-ier.
I find the song’s integration of the robotic and the organic continually compelling. At the beginning, Wasner croons over a dry, snapping electronic beat. The percussion disappears in section two (0:45), which is driven instead by a double-time melody and reverberating, fairy-tale synths. Some programmed rat-a-tats transition us into a hazy third section (0:57) that is a close relative to section one but featuring wily keyboard runs that emerge so seamlessly from the electronics as almost to manifest unnoticed. The few measures of piano-like presence that follow seem both natural and dreamlike before melting back into electronics as the first section is reintroduced—although this time (1:19) minus the aforementioned snapping beat, which lends an elusive softness to this gauzy yet substantive composition. More clearly electronic percussion returns for a final iteration of the third section, the piano work now replaced by a rich interlacing of harmonies and wordless backing vocal lines. The song might have faded out here; instead, the double-time second section is brought back as a kind of coda, and when Wasner takes its final words up an octave, we arrive at a suddenly satisfying and unprogrammed conclusion.
Dungeonesse is a collaboration between Wasner and singer/songwriter/multi-instrumentalist/producer Jon Ehrens, who has been involved in a number of bands, including White Life and the Art Department. Wasner and Ehrens composed the songs for Dungeonesse remotely, with the originally Baltimore-based Ehrens relocated to L.A. and Wasner on tour with Wye Oak. The duo’s self-titled album was released in May on the Bloomington, Indiana-based label Secretly Canadian. MP3 via Secretly Canadian.