Local band Lilac Shadows wanted to do something special for the release of their latest record. So, they decided to put up an art exhibition. Opening this week is the “No Dark/No Light” exhibit at the Carrack Modern Art gallery in downtown Durham, complementing their album of the same name.
“No Dark/No Light” is Lilac Shadows' first full-length record, following an EP, remixes and singles. Sam Logan, the band’s vocalist, writes the songs almost entirely himself, and the band self-recorded and mixed their 2012 EP.
This time around, Logan again wrote and recorded on his own, hardly letting anyone hear the music while working on it. They brought it to Mitch Easter at The Fidelitorium, near Winston-Salem, where the record “kinda got a rebirth,” drummer Reed Benjamin said, with a process that was half analog and half digital.
The tracks on “No Dark/No Light” seamlessly blend into the next, creating an absorbing sonic journey. The album moves beyond power pop, which the band has been labeled as in the past, and inhabits a space between ambient, pop and garage. There are plenty of happy surprises, like the guitar opening of 'Inactivision,' which is evocative of a psychedelic battle in outer space. The album finishes by featuring a mournful violin and the rich layered pop that is blooming in the Triangle. Lilac Shadows mixed the tracks consecutively, to preserve the delicate flow between them.
“I felt it was really important to work on [the album] in the order it was going to be heard, to keep the moods consistent,” Logan said.
Lilac Shadows are not afraid of seeing what people think of their work—in fact, they embrace it. A couple of years ago, guitarist Nathan Price (also of cassette-based Raleigh label DiggUp Tapes) had the idea of collaborating with visual artists on cassette tape art. The time was finally right, so the group sent the album to their artist friends and friends of friends, asking for visual responses to the music. There were no rules, other than a digitized copy of the final artwork to be turned into cassette tape art.
“Instinctually we had a feeling that [since] we liked the idea so much, that it would be received by pretty different people in the same way,” Benjamin said of the band's expectations of the collaborations. “A lot of artists do want to be involved in stuff like this. They just need the opportunity.”
The pieces, rather than encapsulating the album, are a physical response.
“That something I made inspired that in someone else…that’s enough for me,” Logan said.
The band mounted the art exhibition themselves earlier this week, with help from the Carrack’s Laura Ritchie. The art pieces have been trickling in, surprising the band with the variety in mediums, messages and experiences of the music. Everything from painting to photography to typography to installation is represented.
“You can’t capture [those experiences] in the same way in a conversation,” Benjamin said. “Everyone’s interpretations are radically different.”
Highlights include a photograph of a rope installation wrapped around a forest, abstract collages, and a quilt. Price designed a sound installation with samples from the record running on infinite loop cassettes for visitors to make their own soundscapes. All of the pieces are in conversation with one another, but are tangential enough that understanding them collectively can only come from experiencing the album oneself.
The record release show provides that opportunity this Saturday. At the Carrack, the music and the artwork will create a singular multisensory experience of “No Dark/No Light.” The show will also feature Matt Northrup and Midnight Plus One. When deciding whom to invite to open for Lilac Shadows, the band wanted musicians who would work well in a gallery space.
"It's not just finding good bands, but finding bands that make sense," Logan said. "Again like with the artwork, we curated the show as much as we curated the gallery."
Several band members of Midnight Plus One are also artists—member Casey Cook has a piece in the show—and Matt Northrup is Benjamin’s former roommate. Logan “was floored” when he first saw Northrup perform and describes his sound as “art music.” The immersive evening of collaboration is rounded out by the merchandise attendees can take home: limited edition cassettes of “No Dark/No Light” will be on sale, each with a different contributed artwork as its cover.
Looking forward, Lilac Shadows hopes to do many more collaborations and are already planning to release stems from the albums for remixing. Benjamin hopes they will explore everyone in the band’s interests, as they each have “a wide array of things we’re fascinated by creatively, besides music.”
On mounting their first art show, Logan said, “It’s like we’re learning how to drive stick shift for the first time. It really sucks right now, but at the end of the day...” The awesome is implied.
Lilac Shadows' record release show is Sat., February 8 at the Carrack Modern Art at 9 p.m. The artists’ work will be on show until Saturday February 15th.