“Light Lab” is the song that leads off Daniel Carlson’s forthcoming fourth album, “Cartoon Babylon”. The first thing about “Light Lab” is the band. Chris Bruce on guitar, Jebin Bruni on keyboards, Earl Harvin on drums, and Meshell Ndegeocello on bass (Carlson, who normally plays bass on his own records, having happily handed over that seat here). If you were fortunate enough to have seen Ndegeocello on the European leg of her 2013 tour, this band – aside from Carlson, although he was in the audience for the Munich date – was the one you saw and heard. This is a group of incredible musicians who play together with the perfect mix of delicacy and audaciousness. That we get to hear them here – in a very different context – is a rare and special treat.
Gentle and thoughtful, “Light Lab” fuses cinematic atmospheres with a chilled and intriguing type of melancholy that Carlson has become known for across his discography to date. Sparkling with gorgeous delicate sounds and Carlson’s comforting voice, the track is a poignant moment of summer reflection, like a cool breeze emerging to calm the soul. The accompanying video sees a myriad of different coloured Daniel Carlson heads singing the track in a simple but eccentric, trippy visual.
On “Light Lab”, Carlson explains: “I lived in Los Angeles in the late 1980s and there was this woman I knew a bit, Tara. She was the girlfriend of a friend of mine. Tara was trying to be a songwriter but was like the rest of us – had all sorts of other gigs just trying to get the rent paid. And one of them was in a funny kind of dump near downtown, I can’t remember the name, a coffee shop that turned into a sort of hipster hang out after 1 or 2 in the morning. And you’d see her there and she’d just be losing it after a twelve-hour shift and you’d ask how she was and she’d say, ‘I’m taking out the half world for a final overhaul,’ which stuck in the back of my brain in a funny way.”
Fast forward to the teens of the next century and Carlson found himself on a boat, drifting through the Ligurian Sea, a guest of a generous art-dealer friend. Afternoons were typically spent swimming off the back of the boat, listening to Joni Mitchell records, with Carlson wondering how in the hell he got there. “It was completely bizarre. One afternoon I was in Amsterdam, the next I was off the coast of Italy in a very different kind of scene. I mean it was great, but it was just so far beyond anything I’d ever experienced”, he explains. And, in the middle of one of those long and lazy afternoons, those strange words about half-worlds came back into his head. “I didn’t have a guitar with me, but that phrase kept coming back around and I started singing it into my phone, just using the memo record. Different melodies, different rhythms. By the time I got back home, I probably had 30 different versions to sort through”, he further explains.
Arriving back in Amsterdam, Carlson tried to track Tara down. “The main obstacle was that I couldn’t remember her last name. I’m not sure I’d ever known it in the first place.” But a half dozen emails later, he heard from a mutual friend, who told him that Tara had given up on music, went back to school for engineering, and ended up designing light bulbs (of all things). “And I loved the contrast of these two things I knew about her, the first – her life as a kind of overstretched hustler in LA – that I’d witnessed, and the second – a life working in the lab – that I’d only heard about. And the song went quickly from there.”
And what of Tara? “I did end up getting the song to her, through a kind of roundabout way. She said she liked it, that it reminded her of a moment, which made me happy. Because that’s the whole point, right?”, Carlson concludes.