Much has been said about Big Deal, their stripped down ‘two guitars nothing else’ sound, the raw emotional content of the lyrics, and most of all the fact that the duo, Kacey Underwood and Alice Costelloe, are 29 and 18 respectively with plenty of raised eyebrows at the pairing/age gap. This last point isn’t helped by the fact that most, f not all, of the songs on their debut seem revolve around unrequited love, teenage longing and potentially inappropriate, or damaging relationships. This could of course just be an misidentification of Roland Barthes notion of ‘authorial authority’* and their relationship might be as Costelloe insists, perfectly innocent.
Lights Out is certainly album that looks to the past, not only musically (opener Distant Neighbour immediately makes me think of classic Dinosaur Jr.), but lyrically too (a major theme is failed, or stagnated relationships, or those that didn’t even get out the starting blocks). Costelloe’s voice is really rather lovely, especially on Talk and Cool Like Kurt. Both full of powerful emotion, and fragile enough to convey the melancholy. The songs swing between the wistful, heartbreakingly sad (on Chair Costelloe sings of ‘wanting to be lovers, trying hard not to be friends’), and on Homework the slightly creepy.
Apparently it is also wrong to assume that Big Deal are a ‘boy/girl duo,’ Costelloe (again) insists that they are a band that happen to only have two members, one of which is a boy one of which is a girl. Listening to this album though, and seeing how much more dominant Costelloe is, if anything to me it sounds like it is her act with Underwood as her band member.
The interplay between acoustic and electric guitar works wonderfully, and it is surprising at how well just two instruments and two voices, ranging from finger picked intricacy to fuzzed out squall, can convey a wealth of emotion and feeling. The occasional missteps, the relative weakness of Underwood’s vocals when he takes the lead, or where the minimal arrangement sounds light, hollow and fragile, are few and far between. For a debut this is remarkably accomplished and a joy to listen to. Pi and its reverb, and gently shimmering synths is an ethereal end to an otherwise stripped back album, it acts almost as the opposite of a palette cleanser, the relatively more complex contrast demonstrating the quality of the subtle flavours of the minimal compositions that preceded it.
Regardless of whether any of the conjecture speculation is true or not Lights Out is a great album, all of the discussion means column inches that get it heard, which can only be a good thing.
*English Literature graduates should not that I mainly studied the history of political-intellectual discourse (specialising in the French Revolution), so I’m probably wrong!
This article first appeared on The Fugitive Motel on 16 September 2011