Musical project Francis and the Lights has had an interesting journey since the release of its first EP in 2007, Striking. In the following nine years, Francis Farewell Starlite furthered the project with a slew of three further EPs, a score to the well-received 2012 film Robot & Frank and collaborations with artists such as Birdy, Chance the Rapper and most recently Frank Ocean on his much-awaited album Blonde. Expectations undeniably accompany the release of the project’s ten-track debut album Farewell, Starlite! In many ways, Francis and the Lights have delivered – providing a selection of stellar tracks and attentive production, though perhaps marred by several lacklustre tracks and an incohesive mood.
The album packs a punch with its opening number “See Her Out (That Just Life)” which combines pulsating synth beats with Starlite’s electrifying vocals to create promising momentum. Such impetus is perhaps lost slightly with succeeding tracks “Comeback” and “Can’t Stay Party” – by no means unlistenable but perhaps lacking in an identifiable spark.
A surge of energy returns with “I Want You to Shake” and “May I Have This Dance”, however. The former track is an exhilerating fusion of synth and funk. The latter is utterly soulful, delivering lines such as: “Can I say something crazy? / I love you”, which sound sublime in Starlite’s smooth vocal delivery with a delightful warmth throughout the production.
Perhaps what proves most disappointing from the album is what would have been an expected highlight – the Kanye West collaboration as both co-writer and featuring artist on “My City’s Gone”. Surprisingly meandering in tone, the track cannot be fully salvaged by a somewhat inspired addition of distorted vocals. Following thereafter is “Running Man / Gospel OP1” which unfortunately suffers from a discernible lack of centre to the track, leaving a promising gospel section lingering in a muddled format.
“It’s Alright to Cry” matches somewhat sombre lyrics with an upbeat tone which provides a natural refreshment to the flow of the album.
“Friends” is not only the anchor of Farewell, Starlite! but a track that undoubtedly deserves a place on critics’ year-end lists. A collaboration between Francis, Bon Iver and Kanye West (sidenote: this writer’s supergroup of 2016) proves to provide outstanding results. A sublime synth-beat introduction pivots the track into the vocals of Bon Iver whose tone is a perfect match to that of Francis, making the vocal layering implemented in “Friends” seamless. Lyrically, simplicity reigns supreme: “Put your head on my shoulders” and “I can’t remember what it’s like / To never wanna let go” are delivered with such intensity that they are rendered utterly truthful and intesively catchy. In all, “Friends” is a masterwork of production and collaboration, producing a track that lingers for long in the mind. The accompanying video for the track – shot entirely in one tracking shot – phenomenally accompanies the music with its simplistic but entrancing nature, much due to the intriguing choreography used throughout which rather fabulously features a synchronised dance with Bon Iver – watch below.
The final track “Thank You” proves to be a fitting conclusion in its combination of soft piano notes and strong vocals from Starlite.
A flummoxing mood and a few flat tracks should not be enough to deter listeners from unswervingly excellent vocals from Francis and the Lights alongside several stand-out tracks and a consistently impressive use of synth, layering and production. In all, making Farewell, Starlite! a collection of tracks that undoubtedly needs to be visited at least once.