Album Review: Sweet Beast by Illiterate Light
Doing more with less. In most walks of life, it’s something you do begrudgingly when the need arises. When something goes wrong. Music is an exception, though. There are tremendous creative benefits to assigning limitations, and successful power duos like Japandroids and The White Stripes offer proof that, under the right circumstances, the whole can add up to much, much more than the sum of its parts. (It never ceases to amaze me that a song originally performed by two people became a go-to singalong for sports crowds numbering in the six digits.)
Illiterate Light consists of Jeff Gorman on guitar and pedal-activated bass synths and Jake Cochran on drums, aligning the group with the duos mentioned above, but their Sweet Beast EP offers its own distinctive — and wildly enjoyable — study in surpassing expectations for what a band of two can do.
The rock duo format can feel like a high-wire act at times, with sparseness playing the role of gravity. Too much is… not good. But Illiterate Light feel unburdened in this sense, both on Sweet Beast and in the live setting. Warm, spacious guitar sounds call to mind grainy footage of arenas packed to the gills. Choruses echo in the air and in your memory, growing in stature with each repeated listen. Vocal harmonies round out arrangements and elevate those memorable moments. Even the EP format feels efficient here; “Better Than I Used To” and “Nuthin’s Fair” offer a one-two punch as strong as the first two tracks you might hear on a hits compilation. Yet here they are, just two of five songs on a debut EP.
Gorman and Cochran prove economical in other ways as you progress through Sweet Beast. The title track efficiently makes a hook out of quick descending and ascending chords, and “Two Cats” incorporates a post-Is This It understanding of how much single guitar notes can achieve.
In the closing track, entitled “Growin’ Down,” we get a wonderful line of sight into Gorman’s singing, which has textural shades of Wayne Coyne’s and the ability to climb with ease and clarity. The track stands out in terms of feel, with an opening passage defined by acoustic strumming, bursts of slide guitar, and lyrics that hit especially hard. Questions like “Are you grown up yet?” and “Did you graduate?” hammer home that idea of retrograde development — a subject that’s unfortunately relevant in the current cultural and political moment.
But Sweet Beast is itself a sign of tremendous forward-facing promise. As big as the EP sounds, you can’t help feeling it’s a sign of even bigger things to come.