Hailing from the oh-so-pastoral climes of Grand Rapids, Michigan, the four-piece Lights at Sea traffics in a kind of wispy ethereal instrumental post-rock. It’s a sound most commonly associated these days with acts like Explosions in the Sky, but as Lights at Sea’s full-length debut, Palace Walls (Mind over Matter/Barrett Records) has some crunch to its low-end, I’m inclined to cite earlier Pelican as well, the two guitars of Scott Adams and Ryan Harig playing off each other in rhythms and echoing tonality. The album, which is a full-length at a bit under 35 minutes, is comprised of seven explorations that feel somewhere between improvised jamming and pointedly linear structures. Doubtless the band, which is rounded out by drummer Rob Burt and bassist Nick Rhodes, had some direction in mind for these tracks before pressing record, but with this kind of effects swirl, there are bound to be moments and sounds that pop up as part of the studio experience that simply couldn’t have been foreseen, and these are often some of the most magical stretches that albums like this have to offer.
What’s holding Palace Walls back, then, is the ease with which it can be pigeonholed into a genre. Cuts like the title-track, which follows a softly droning, minimalist intro dubbed “Fireside,” set up an effective build across their span, but it’s simple to write these and many of the other moves Lights at Sea are making here as derivative. One of their most engaging cuts is the centerpiece “Mantracker,” and even here Lights at Sea aren’t accomplishing anything in their encompassing all of sound that Red Sparowes wasn’t doing with their Godspeed You! Black Emperor influence on their own first album in 2005. To Lights at Sea’s credit, the flow from one track to the next on Palace Walls is immaculate, but I’m not convinced even after multiple listens that that alone is going to be enough to save them amidst fickle ears or heads bored of spaced out noodling. It’s a young sound anyway – one half expects to hear someone start post-hardcore screaming at several intervals on the album, “This is a House of Learned Doctors” among them – but even so, it’s one long since established, and Lights at Sea don’t bring much to it that wasn’t there to start with.