I have come to believe that if you look up prolific in the dictionary you would find a picture of Neil Finn accompanying the definition. In the last few years, he has put out two solo albums, toured those albums, participated in any number of collaborations and is currently touring with Fleetwood Mac, replacing Lindsey Buckingham who has split from “Mac” yet again. In this same period of time, he has finally decided to press the studio record button when working with his longtime studio and tour ally, his musically gifted son, Liam. The results of that decision turned into the collaboration “Lightsleeper”.
For those more aware of Neil’s works and unaware of Liam Finn’s musical efforts, he is a significant presence in the alt music industry. Liam has toured with Wilco, Pearl Jam, and Eddie Vedder along with founding his own band, Betchadupa and releasing his own solo works. Liam has been a studio and touring artist for his father since his teens, sparking many a developing song idea for dad, such as Souvenir off Try Whistling This. He also recently made Neil a first time grandfather. The idea of recording these two gifted musicians is a dream come true for admirers of the two men. When considering the combo the question quickly becomes will Neil’s Beatles influenced wry pop take the lead or will Liam’s berserker musical experimentation win the day. On August 24th all will be revealed as Lightsleeper releases and allows fans of both men the chance to see the musical results of an ersatz super duo pairing.
Lightsleeper was mainly recorded in Neil’s Auckland, New Zealand studio. The album would be the duo’s first official music release and the first album written together by the father and son team. Neil and Liam have described the recording as an art project of sorts, cinematic in feel with Neil mostly manning the piano as Liam switches from instrument to instrument as needed. The songs are bursting with what they both do best, constructing songs filled with melody, trademark sonics, and effecting woozy switchback flips. What is also evident is the balance between the ends of the spectrum that both individuals represent sonically. Liam often provides the Lo-Fi sounds and atmospherics while Neil evocatively sings over top providing many unforgettable moments. What quickly becomes apparent is that the two have a mutual admiration society transpiring. Each holds an underlying respect and love for the other and their musical abilities making the album endearing and spellbinding. Also of note is how the entire album is quite a family and friends affair with Neil’s wife and Liam’s mom Sharon playing bass on two songs and son/brother Elroy playing the drums on a majority of the tracks. Add in “adopted” family member Mick Fleetwood and that alone makes the album a standout accomplishment.
Lightsleeper kicks off with Island of Peace a lovely gateway into the recording carrying a celestial, interstellar ambience that builds anticipation for what is to come throughout the release. The delicate Meet Me In the Air is the Finns at their prettiest. The song is an ethereal lullaby that almost surprised me as I expected something more raucous with Liam involved. But hang on things get funkier with Where’s My Room where a senior moment searching for a hotel room on tour turns into a riotous song. Take note of the excellent Bootsy Collins bass work and Prince-like stylings. It is a mostly light-hearted song that morphs into something more meaningful when the idea of searching is then equated with seeking for meaning throughout life’s journey. Moving on From there things get intimate with Angel Plays a Part which has this fantastic vibe of simplicity like it was recorded with both men sitting and jamming on the back porch pondering life. Listen is classic Neil Finn. This piano-centred composition is achingly beautiful and propounds the importance of keeping things in proportion, prioritizing the good and not getting carried away with dystopic thinking. Neil reveals he has learned that listening can be the most important gift, “Silence has a purpose, I don’t fear it anymore.” Liam tosses in some engaging off-kilter sonics making for an arresting track.
The dreamy Any Other Way drifts about in a gauzy hypnotic fashion. The song has a calming placid effect and seems a perfect pairing with the track Meet Me in the Air. The first single and video from the release is Back to Life which is quintessentially representative of the Finns musical franchise. Portrayed is a wry mulling about the balance between gods and mortals. The song is an examination of how the fates toy with us and how we face the obstacles thrown at us observed in the lyric, “there is no sorrow that can’t be undone”. I simply love this song.
Hiding Place is one of the more experimental tracks on the release. The gorgeous piano and strings backbone allures and then builds to a dreamlike sonically surreal sequence which is engaging. The ballad is evocative as it presents the inner voice that reminds you of trusting yourself to make the right choices and embracing those choices in order to become comfortable with your self. Hiding Place is a risky, off-kilter construct that really pays off in a compelling track. It shows off both Neil and Liam’s ample musical abilities. Ghosts comes off to me as a more “Liam” track and has a punchy, wonky bass that is to be admired.
The final two tracks, We Know What it Means and Hold Her Close are the grand finale to the release. The heartfelt We Know What it Means is a revelry of sorts harkening back to Neil and Liam’s relationship throughout the years. It captures the parent/child relationship morphing into, if you have done it right, adults and friends. This is revealed in lyrics like, “We never laughed so hard, rolling on the kitchen floor”. The song is celebratory and touching as it highlights the joys and struggles that have been encountered throughout the Finn family’s musical journey. The closer Hold Her Close is a straightforward love song filled with acoustic guitars and organs. It a delightful and delicate send off to a brilliant collaboration.
Neil and Liam Finn have displayed their gifted musical abilities in any number of manifestations throughout the years. It seems only fitting that they finally pressed the record button when playing together in the studio. Lightsleeper is a gift for the admirers of either performer. The answer to the question of which person took the musical style lead on the release would be that Neil’s trademark approach wins out overall but not by much. The combining of the father and son’s musical virtuosity produces something uniquely its own manifestation. The recording is more subdued than I expected it would be with Liam in the mix, but putting aside that expectation, the album is sublime. I don’t think either man has the ability to put out anything subpar. Lightsleeper hopefully signifies the beginning of a new chapter in the Finn family musical story with more in store as they singlehandedly attempt to create the Dad/Son wave genre.