The first time I saw The Bright Light Social Hour was between pulls of whiskey at a Southwestern University party. It was 2009. They played loud. Jack and Curt were shirtless. I left before the second song. The next time I heard about The Bright Light Social Hour was in 2012 and, I shit you not, they’d just opened for Aerosmith in Quebec City.
At some point after that college party, they released their self-titled debut LP, won eleven or so Austin Music Awards, and started seriously touring—400+ shows between 2010-2014 including lots of festivals (Lollapalooza, Austin City Limits Festival, Hangout Festival, Sasquatch Festival), a sold out show at Stubb’s, and countless poorly lit club shows on the way and in between. This is as many performances as some bands play in their entire existence—roughly one hundred shows a year for four years. That’s more than The Doors ever played. Another way to think about this is that these guys spent over half of each year traveling, playing, promoting, worrying about, and recovering from performing around North America. Their hair got longer. Their facial hair got worse and then better. The grooves got darker, longer, more electronic, less bluesy.
If someone were to write a comprehensive biography of this band, they’d cite “Wendy Davis” as a harbinger of where the band was going. It might be the best (only?) example of politically-charged Texan Krautrock there ever was. “Wendy Davis” was released within 24 hours of the band spending all night at Senator Wendy Davis’s famous filibuster of Texas Senate Bill 5. Maybe most impressively, it showed a rising young band, from Texas no less, unafraid to demonstrate their politics at a time when people will completely dismiss an artist’s work for their political views.
By the time Space Is Still The Place (Frenchkiss, March 2015) came out, Bright Light bore little resemblance to the group that made their debut. Where LP1 soundtracked the party, Space was phantasmagoric and dense. It’s title references Sun Ra, but sounds nothing like it. The vocals are mixed low, the lyrics a kind of dense inner-band symbolist poetics. I remember Jo excitedly telling me about printing the tracks to analog tape so they’d sound more distorted. While the songs’ meanings were certainly more elliptical, the music was more cinematic and emotive than ever before. Songs from Space found their way onto HBO, MTV, Fox, The CW, and NBC. The band was picked to compose the theme song for Amazon’s “Sneaky Pete.”
When they weren’t grinding it out again on the road in front Edward Sharpe & The Magnetic Zeros or Dr. Dog, the band started producing tracks for other artists like myself, Megafauna and Migrant Kids in the studio they’d been quietly building for years. It was here that they recorded the Neighbors EP (self-released, October 2016) with Israel Nash. Their EP release show was a rally for the Democratic Party.
On the day of Trump’s inauguration, they released the Jim Eno-produced (Spoon) single, “Tear Down That Wall”—accompanied by a music video largely of people flipping off the camera. I’m not sure any piece of work so succinctly embodies their ethos.
After almost two years of writing, demoing, recording, and re-recording, The Bright Light Social Hour will release Missing Something EP (Modern Outsider) on September 28th. The first in a series of new releases, the five song collection captures a band reeling from the loss of their “older younger brother” and manager, Alex O’Brien, who succumbed to Bipolar Disorder a few weeks before the release of Space. Recorded by themselves and mixed by Jim Eno, Missing Something isn’t a collection of songs about acceptance and peace, it’s the sound of four guys mucking through the confusing mess of grieving a friend, brother and partner. Lead single, "Trip With Lola," finds the band melding psychedelic rock textures with subtle afrobeat polyrhythms.