If experience was gold, The Shiny Lights would be rich. One of the more promising new bands to pop out of the always crowded music scene in Minnesota – aka The Land of 10000 bands – in 2010, The Shiny Lights have about a century’s worth of collective experience behind them, something that is immediately evident when you hear the inspired pop/rock on their self-titled debut EP. Equally adept at up-tempo rockers and delicate pop craft – and most everything in between – this is a band that clearly is serious about its business.
The core of The Shiny Lights revolves around the musical partnership of John Eller and Chris Lynch, who made two wonderful albums together as “Eller Lynch”: Dog Day Afternoon (1996), which won the Minnesota Music Award in 1997 for “Best Indie Album,” and Pathetique (2000). Before Eller Lynch, Eller fronted the popular Minneapolis band John Eller and the DTs. Eller’s resume includes a wide variety of collaborations and honors over the last few decades, everything from singing in a St. Paul heavy metal band in the mid-80s (Paradox) to working with heavyweights like Golden Smog, The Jayhawks and Paul Westerberg. Along the way, Eller even won a Minnesota Music Award for “male vocalist of the year.” Lynch’s tenure in The Picadors found him honing his considerable pop skills while releasing a couple of engaging albums that are certifiable “lost classics,” no mean feat when you consider the quantity and quality of great Minnesota pop albums released over the last three decades.
The rhythm section of The Shiny Lights isn’t exactly short on experience or accolades either. Steve Price (bass, vocals, etc.) was in Rex Daisy, a popular mid-90s major label band from Minneapolis via Iowa. Price is also currently working with Alison Scott and Minneapolis legends, The Suburbs. Along with Eller and Lynch, Price is responsible for the superb sound on the EP – a vividly clean production with surprising depth and nuance. Drummer Noah Levy is something of a musical bon vivant in the Twin Cities. Levy was a founding member of local faves The Honeydogs for many years and has since quietly become an in-demand drummer, working with the likes of Mason Jennings, Golden Smog, Martin Zellar and Brian Setzer while somehow managing regular gigs with The BoDeans and The Disbelievers.
The band members paths have crossed numerous times over the years in dizzying, six-degrees-of-separation fashion: Levy’s first big gig was in The Picadors; Price’s band mate in Rex Daisy, Jon Duncan, also played in The Picadors; Duncan and Levy played together in Trailer Trash; Eller and Price played in Retrofit, a supergroup cum covers band. The Shiny Lights intertwined family tree is typical in the close-knit Minnesota musical community and no doubt contributes to why The Shiny Lights sound grabs your attention right from the first note; they sound like they’ve played together for a zillion years because, in a way, they have.
The blueprint for The Shiny Lights “sound” is rooted in this considerable collective experience: compelling rock and pop strains bearing hints of The Faces, Stones, Elton John, Wings, Big Star, Brian Wilson and Elliot Smith. The Shiny Lights are all experienced musicologists – it’s a testament to their talent and personal flair that they’re able to make such fresh music out of such classic influences. The debut EP – complete with amazing Hipgnosis-inspired cover art – is the perfect intro to The Shiny Lights. From the ballsy crunch of the opener, “Where’s the One?” to the wistful, fragile closer “A Thousand Tricks,” The Shiny Lights successfully navigate the rock/pop dichotomy with ease and style. The EP is full of surprises, too: accomplished keyboard work throughout, some rockin’ accordion (?!), nice banjo work courtesy of Dave Boquist (Son Volt and a former band mate of Eller in the DTs) and a great Booker T-ish quasi-instrumental (“On the Sly”) that will leave you grinning from ear to ear. The first of a planned series of EP releases, The Shiny Lights is proof positive that experience counts for something – in this case, great music.