From the beginning, Welsh pop savant Bright Light Bright (born Rod Thomas), was all about good taste. His first two records Make Me Believe in Hope (2012) and Life is Easy (2014) were suited and booted dance-pop vehicles that displayed his dapper singing tone, winning him instant critical acclaim. But last year, his junior effort, Choreography, was an evolutionary jump forward into pop artistry that is rarely seen today.
The LP was built as an homage to a variety of scenes or dance sequences from a plethora of films belonging to the 1980s and 1990s. Further scrutiny revealed the record's true mission as an exploration of songwriting and production from those same decades that favored songcraft. Plush and evocative, Choreography was a win for Thomas as a singer, songwriter and producer. He managed to forego overt nostalgia and modernize the type of music he grew up loving. Additionally, the record saw Thomas up the ante as a visual artist with its partnering music videos and album art which burst with color and enthusiasm. To follow that victory with Cinematography, a demure five track extended play of covers, was quite brave.
Utilizing the same sonic / thematic feel of Choreography's citified, but intimate synth-pop/AOR and movie veneration, Thomas recast chestnuts from Michael Sembello (“Maniac,” from Flashdance) and All Saints (“Pure Shores,” from The Beach) pleasantly enough. But, he seemed to be hesitating with Cinematography, as if he was waiting to take this extension of Choreography a step further.
Released this past Friday, Cinematography Part II: Back in the Habit proves that Thomas was indeed saving the best for last. He covers six artists in all, including Lisa Lougheed (“Run With Us”), Jevetta Steele (“Calling You”), Starship (“Nothing's Gonna Stop Us Now”), Lisa Loeb (“Stay (I Missed You)”), Madonna (“Causing a Commotion”) and Björk (“New World”). His selections cut across cinema and one television show, obvious evidence of Thomas' astutely fine ear for pop music, eras aside.
The sonic frequency of the initial EP carries over onto its sequel, but this time Thomas' ability to reimagine the songs’ tempos has him connecting reverence and reinvention easily. His airy rendition of Steele's “Calling You” (from Baghdad Café) puts the focus on his expressive vocal and its ability to convey gay pathos eloquently. Replete with his mournful saxophone work, “Calling You” is a sensational take complementing Steele's original and standing toe-to-toe with Céline Dion's 1994 take.
But, the singer truly tops himself on his approach to compositions from Lisa Loeb and Björk. He resets Loeb's “Stay (I Missed You)” from the 1994 Reality Bites soundtrack into a cool, but bruised R&B snapper that is nothing short of brilliant when considering its acoustic roots. On Björk's “New World” from Dancer in the Dark’s accompanying 2000 soundtrack Selmasongs, Thomas pulls back, ever so slightly, on the majestic sweep of the original without shortchanging its emotional weight and grandiosity. In fact, as the EP's closer, “New World” trademarks Thomas' brand of pop as accomplished, feeling and intelligent.
Cinematography II― and the overall Choreography project―represents a modern day musical benchmark all its own, evidence that Bright Light Bright Light is here to stay, challenging contemporary pop convention.
Notable Tracks: “Calling You” | “New World” | “Stay (I Missed You)”