Stop Light Observations will play at Revelry Room at the Chattanooga Choo Choo on Wednesday, June 21, at 9 p.m. Tickets are $10 and available here.
Review for Stop Light Observations:
While making new album Toogoodoo, Stop Light Observations’ search for meaning led them on a journey of ecstatic highs and intense lows, personal setbacks and artistic triumphs. Ultimately, it led the Charleston band straight back home to South Carolina’s Toogoodoo River.
The roots of SLO go back to high school, when, at age 16, songwriter and pianist Cubby (aka John Keith Culbreth) and singer Will Blackburn realized they’d been childhood friends and neighbors and decided to form a band. But things didn't truly take off until a few years later when SLO released their acclaimed 2013 debut, Radiation. They went from relative unknowns to playing Bonnaroo and selling out Charleston's largest club, The Music Farm, in just a year. Since then, they've broken the record for most consecutive sold-out shows at The Music Farm and have toured across the country, playing standout festival sets at Firefly and Summerfest. Stop Light Observations have also been featured at major national outlets from Conan O’Brien’s Team Coco and PBS to Impose, PopMatters and Garden & Gun.
Despite SLO’s sudden success, they eventually fell victim to some music-industry shadiness, and hit a low point in Colorado at the end of a tour, facing a depleted budget, no shows on the books and the potential dissolution of the band. "I remember sitting in the van wondering, ‘What are we gonna do? How are we even gonna make another record,’” recalls Blackburn. "I said, 'Why don't we go out to Toogoodoo?'"
Toogoodoo is a 200-year-old house owned by Cubby’s family about 30 minutes outside Charleston on the banks of the Toogoodoo River. The property overlooks immense, brackish marshes where the ocean and river water meet, and the specter of Charleston's dark history hangs heavy, a counterbalance to the currents of peaceful serenity and the property’s natural splendor. SLO decided the only way to properly record an album in this setting was to track everything live with the whole band, and then mix it down to analog tape. Once they they nailed what felt like a perfect take, they’d cut it again with even more intensity. Sometimes 40 takes deep into a song, band members would call for one more, and one more again until something undeniably transcendent happened.
"I grew up in a church, and it was a Holy Spirit type situation," says Cubby. "Every time we got the one, we all knew it. There were no arguments—every song on this album captures that deep level of emotion we felt performing it. Every song you hear is the take and every time I listen it takes me right back.”
Toogoodoo opens with the first notes SLO recorded there, the haunting, palm-muted hook of Louis Duffie's guitar on "Dinosaur Bones." As a chorus of crickets fades into the Low Country night, Blackburn's voice enters on top, smooth at first but gaining grit and gravel with each verse, musing on loneliness in the modern world over the intensifying rhythms of drummer Luke Withers. "Decorated on the outside, but empty at my core," he sings, setting the stage for a 12-track journey through middle-class alienation.
The stories on Toogoodoo will at once feel familiar and revelatory, as SLO takes an insightful look at the contradictions of a modern society where the internet puts the world at our fingertips, yet still we often feel alone and unfulfilled. The solutions, they discovered while creating this album, don't lie in possessions, status or anything external.
"There's no such thing as security,” Cubby says, “and all the answers and fulfillment you're searching for is a daily struggle that lives within you. It's your responsibility to love and accept yourself, and to share the energy you receive from that with others. And that's what this album is. It's the story of some 23-year-olds living in America."