The first Big Stir Records release for 2021 is also the label debut for THE STAN LAURELS. THERE IS NO LIGHT WITHOUT THE DARK (out on CD and digital formats January 23 at www.bigstirrecords.com/store
and everywhere, and available for pre-order now) is the fourth studio album from Austin, TX native JOHN LATHROP under the Laurels name. It's a watershed follow-up to his acclaimed and award-winning 2018 collection MAYBE that's sure to garner similar accolades: ambitious but accessible, its musical eclecticism is grounded in Lathrop's singular gift for melody and arrangement, and a strong thematic vision reflected by the record's title.
A musical and visual polymath who's responsible for all the songs, vocals, instrumental performances and even the striking art design that together embody The Stan Laurels' vision, Lathrop has reached a new peak on There Is No Light Without The Dark. Featuring ten new original songs and a pair of instrumental interludes (John's also found success in film scoring), the record constitutes a further synthesis of influences as diverse as The Beatles, Breeders, Zombies, Kinks, Flaming Lips, Cars, Badfinger, Yes, They Might Be Giants, and Debussy into a big, lush, multi-layered sound that feels both vintage and modern.
That controlled collision of retro sounds and 21st century sensibility can be found in the playful modern lyrical references that include the sly deployment of online memes and tropes, as asides and even as the focus of the lead single, “Florida Man” (which also happens to be partially autobiographical). There are also unmistakably current -- and scathingly humorous – takedowns of the departing POTUS on the giddily withering “Red-Handed Puppet” and the more pointed (but still impeccably tuneful) “Lost & Found”. There's even an ode to the titular comic character actress of “Mo Collins” that's pure fannish fun.
If this joyful wordplay is part of the “light” of the title, the other component is the tenderness that underpins a pair of odes to Lathrop's family. “Of Love, Wine and Song”, written for John's wife, sees a prog-inspired 5/4 time signature take flight into shoegaze-adjacent realms of beauty. And the lovely waltz “Mateo’s Song”, which truly deserves to be considered a modern lullaby, pays tribute to the singer-songwriter's young son.
As promised, and as to be expected for a record constructed during 2020, the “dark” is addressed here as well: the closing “This Is Your Life” ebbs and flows between lacerating guitars and sweeter idylls as it takes its stabs at the loudest complainers who are too often oblivious to how much better they have it compared to so many others. But the song offers hope for growth, as does the appropriately (and authentically) psychedelic “On Paper”, which equates maturity and grace with emerging from a bad acid trip. “November” is probably the most harrowing tune on offer, mirroring the onset of a panic attack with an unexpected tempo change (one of many arrestingly creative arrangement moments that dot the album). The dark and the light live side by side in these songs, and it may be on the beautiful, gliding “Tomorrow” that they're best synthesized: Lathrop describes it as a self-motivational anthem, and it breezes in like a lost classic from the college rock airwaves of the '80s before crashing into a soaring '90s alt-rock chorus... and still finds room for a tight, bouncy breakdown in the Cars or Weezer mold.
Lathrop's distinctive (and often stunningly gorgeous) voice brings the diverse influences on display together, and his playing – on the drums, keyboards, bass, and an array of jaw-dropping guitar arrangements – is always in service of the songs. And those songs, as varied as they are, support each other in their unflinching honesty, inventiveness, and ultimately, hope. “There is no single blueprint for how a Stan Laurels record must sound,” John notes, and proves it here with a full collection of ups and downs, soft and heavy, mellow and loud, and - yes - light and dark, both musically and within the lyrical themes. Lathrop demurs that it's a cliché for an artist to claim his newest work is his best, so we shall do it for him: THERE IS NO LIGHT WITHOUT THE DARK is a major leap forward from an already accomplished and unique musical talent, and we at Big Stir Records can't wait to share it with you.
released January 23, 2021