The Stan Laurels – There Is No Light Without Dark
Released 23 January 2021
Fourth album by John Lathrop aka The Stan Laurels, but the first one to be issued through Big Stir Records. This is the follow up to 2018’s well received Maybe LP. Ian Canty finds no reason to say “Hmmmm” in a pissed off fashion…
I first came across The Stan Laurels, the musical pseudonym of Austin, Texas-based John Lathrop, on The Yuletide Wave (reviewed here). His/Their song included Noche Buena was a finely crafted pop gem, which served as a good introduction to his/their work. That tempting morsel made me look forward to hearing this new LP by the SLs, the fourth recorded under the name. The Stan Laurels’ story commenced back in 2009 with the Death Of The Sun collection and was followed by the albums Billi & Theodore: Music from the Motion Picture in 2013 and 2018’s Maybe. Now this new compendium emerges on the Big Stir label.
Florida Man sets There Is No Light Without Dark in motion. Equipped with positively gleaming guitars and a firm folk/beat pop base, this provides a sparkling background for a song that seems to impart a particularly hard-won wisdom on the subject of regret. Time passes and lessons are learned over the course of some years, but not without paying a high price. This is an accessible, easy-going tune, with a bright hook line that quickly plunged itself deep in my subconscious during the four and a half minutes running time. Immediately it is clear that although this is the work of one man, it is very much a “band” sound that The Stan Laurels evoke here and so it proves on the remainder of the record.
The jangle of Tomorrow takes up the baton with a flowing gentleness backed by a tough rhythm and fuzz guitar. It comes complete with a finely judged guitar solo and dreamy vocals, balancing the rough and the smooth adeptly and appealingly. Lost & Found has a new wave style clashing rhythm riffing and lead guitar opening, with a beautifully punchy kick to the drums adding to a nicely observed song as well. The tempo drops a little in the quieter verses, before building up to a powerful crescendo at the chorus which truly satisfied this listener.
November is different and comes in with an acoustic guitar strum. Lathrop’s voice lucidly portrays the bittersweet yearning for that special someone here and in doing so he more or less duets with himself. The spry keyboard touches are typical of The Stand Laurels’ attention to fine detail, with a percussion-propelled coda and more prime soloing providing the musical payoff.
Next comes the brief Emotions I, a delicate synth warble that is enlarged upon later on There Is No Light Without Dark. Then we are on to Of Love, Wine And Song. Sparkling guitar and a strident rhythm provide the canvas for John’s voice to hover spectrally above. To my ears there’s a little hint of the work of Vini Reilly here – never a bad thing – with regard to how the voice and guitar knit together in an unearthly drift, coupling restrained power with beguiling delicacy in such a cool and lovelorn way.
Proving that The Stan Laurels are not solely concerned with affairs of the heart, Red-Handed Puppet is a wry political number concerning about a recently ejected president. There’s a real crunch to the jangle that is supplied by the drums and a guitar surge. That the invective comes allied to with a delightful tune makes it all the more effective and the sharp and biting guitar solo is very neat too.
For Mateo’s Song The Stan Laurels plug into a more folk pop sound with pipe and drums pitter-pattering along and a simple and pure vocal. A lovely atmosphere is arrived at – it is enchanting, with the chimes and backing vocals arrangement again bring home Lathrop’s expert knack for applying fine detail. On Paper, which comes next, opens warping guitar sound, but soon settles down with to a mid-paced and infectious rhythm, before building to a cool climax. This great, sensitive beat pop with phased effects and vocal harmonies. Now I know it seems daft to talk about one man harmonising with himself, but somehow it works here!
Mo Collins is on the face of it a straightforward paean to the film/tv actor and impressionist. But musically the song is set to firm riffing and has a punchy pop/rock structure. The upshot is as catchy as hell and full of comic and ironic lines. It is also one of a few on this LP which has hit single written all over it, having a similar quirky charm to Weezer’s Buddy Holly. Given some radio play who knows? Again the little things here make a difference, like the piano line that bangs away in background, before really coming into its own halfway through the number.
As you might suspect, Emotions II broadens out from Emotions I, an instrumental where keys, guitar and pipe sounds merge to produce a very pretty, stately feel. To end with punchy rocker This Your Life provides a fitting finale with tonnes of energy as drums are battered and guitars crash about. Though the lyrical thrust of There Is No Light Without Dark is mainly reflective, the chant of “no regrets” here returns the listener to the more positive notion that it is all out there for one to grab. A quiet false-fade out is used too, so the riffing can be sent powerful back in to end the tune and the album on a high.
On this LP Dark The Stan Laurels have produced a work of abundant depth, cracking tunes allied to a very wise and above all human lyrical viewpoint. Just because there is only one person involved does not mean there is any less power to the music, as if you were not conversant with the fact that this is John Lathrop on his Jack Jones beforehand, you would never suspect it as anything other than a band recording and a high quality one at that. I know we are less than a month into 2021, but There Is No Light Without Dark sets a high standard for anyone else to better this year.
All words by Ian Canty – see his author profile here