The promotional video to Lionel Boy’s ‘Kam Highway’ delineates a connect and disconnect. Scenes of red city lights, natural forestry and car journeys star amidst the song’s swaying indietronic plunder. The namesake highway – Kamehameha – extends through much of Oahu, nearing Pearl Harbour, in Lionel’s Hawaiian stomping grounds.
The general sonication of Lionel Boy’s self-titled debut is anything but rootsy, though it may capture the dreamy serenity of his homeland. ‘Kam Highway’ itself drizzles atmosphere in a non-Weezer pacific daydream, while ‘So Early’ is the work of the alternative islander; waves of synth splash against the face of the wistful onlooker, before layers of bass take shape of rocks for those waves to crash into.
It’s low-key psychedelic, which is a bit like saying low-key homicidal, or low-key covered in bees; much less a sight to see. The album features the occasional Mac DeMarco splatter; the deadpan breathiness of his earlier work, the jizz jazz guitar-on-bass of all of his work. The low end of ‘Flower Girl’ provides a light funk for Lionel’s simple romanticism, while scratching guitar treble cutely acquaints the foreground of ‘Tides’.
The opposite side of the lushness-ruled heads of Lionel’s coin is his tedium-ruled tails. A number of his performances send the coin flipping through the air, as quick cameras snap both sides – ‘Plumeria’ is subdued with a sun-inspired laze, for those whose hammock-lounging doesn’t require organic sounds, as Lionel instead opts for the fizz of full-studio implementation.
Otherwise, ‘Molting’ and ‘Fall’ go full tails; despite the buzzing warmth of the latter’s bass, both become hopelessly limp with a lack of drive. Lionel is far more charming when a sense of direction inhabits the lightbulb atop his head, see the keen, ready single material of ‘Potions’; appropriate for anyone’s wispy indie playlist.
While an optimism resides in Lionel’s chill, many of his lyrics depict the fouler side of emotional reactionism, forming journal-style, “I could never say this in real life” confrontations. The words “I’m not afraid of falling in love, I’m just afraid of you” occupy the stance of ‘I’m Not Afraid’; ‘Mango Michelada’ balances between pits of grace and disgrace, the latter due to damned ugly lyricism – please never say “she tried to play me like Nintendo” again.
But you can’t say it isn’t romantic, in its own reserved manner. Lionel Boy’s debut aches a sad boy ache, and it’s demonstrated with some convoluted gloss, amidst an otherwise authenticity. The soundscape is enclosed, rarely charitable with its emotions, but maybe that’s just the Lionel Boy way; this is how he shoves his vulnerabilities forth, with dreamlike atmosphere, and a light gaze to counter a heavy heart.