Par-Le - The Light Years (2015)

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The gaming industry has reached a level of maturity where serious fans who really understand video games at a programming level look for and enjoy playing older gaming systems. These people have more than fond memories of playing Donkey Kong or Pac Man, they can see and describe the virtues of an older system such as the Sega Genesis 2 that might escape a normal gamer or a novice.

Miles James and Alex Bonfanti of the band Par-le might be considered the musical equivalent. The young Brits, who have playing together since they met while performing on a jazz job as teens, have an abiding love of the synthesized funk of the 1980s.

Now, we hear plenty of stories of bands drawn to the rich analog sounds of the Hammond B3 or who record in studio fully equipped with analog boards. The stories of musicians searching for 1980s keyboards aren’t nearly as numerous, but they are indeed out there because some of those sounds can be heard in the music of today.

The gaming industry has reached a level of maturity where serious fans who really understand video games at a programming level look for and enjoy playing older gaming systems. These people have more than fond memories of playing Donkey Kong or Pac Man, they can see and describe the virtues of an older system such as the Sega Genesis 2 that might escape a normal gamer or a novice.

Miles James and Alex Bonfanti of the band Par-le might be considered the musical equivalent. The young Brits, who have playing together since they met while performing on a jazz job as teens, have an abiding love of the synthesized funk of the 1980s.

Now, we hear plenty of stories of bands drawn to the rich analog sounds of the Hammond B3 or who record in studio fully equipped with analog boards. The stories of musicians searching for 1980s keyboards aren’t nearly as numerous, but they are indeed out there because some of those sounds can be heard in the music of today.

James and Bonfanti want that 80s sound and, as the EP The Light Years shows, Par-Le seeks to (re)create that sound with the use of equipment from that era. James and Bonfanti’s mastery of the keyboards and the percussive sounds of that era gives The Light Years the feel of a journey back to an era in music that is underappreciated in some ways.

“Exclusive,” an uptempo cut and one of two cut on The Light Years that features a female vocalist, is a track that sports a sound that has long been a staple of contemporary AC radio while also having one foot planted firmly in throwback territory. The track does feature those 1980s era synths that create sounds that are both airy and percussive along with the smooth bass line that distinguished that era’s adult R&B from the grittier funk of the 1970s and the booming bass that was the signature of hip-hop that would come to dominate airwaves later.

The funky ballad “Leave Me Wanting,” with it multiple percussive sounds and spacy keyboard flourishes, would have fit nicely with the best work of Chris Jasper, Glenn Jones, Freddy Jackson or any of the rangy tenor or baritone vocalists who dominated the 1980s, while the short and very sweet mid-tempo ballad “The Light,” inhabits SOS band territory, combining the deep bass driven funk of the 1970s and early 80s with the 1980s era keyboards.

James and Bonfanti actually finished The Light Years three years ago, but they were busy touring and playing for other artists, so the project got shelved. Now The Light Years sees the light of day three years later than the creators would have liked and 30 years after this sound ruled R&B airwaves. That’s OK because this is an era that often gets short shrift, and if artists from the millennial generation can create solid work using the musical tools of the 1980s, maybe the soul music of that time is ripe for a more generous appraisal as well. The Light Years is a fun look back and, quite possibly, an enjoyable look forward. Recommended.

By Howard Dukes

 

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