(feat. track – “Like A Dream” [spotify])

It feels a little strange to be placing a four song EP this high on my year end list. (Stranger still, it won’t be the shortest release on this Top Ten Twelve by the time we’re done…). Then again, I’ve been waiting for three years, since 2010’s excellent It’ll Be Better, for something new from Francis & the Lights, and Like A Dream managed to deliver on all my expectations and more. Each track on the EPis near-perfect on its own; together, they work perfectly as a unit. I couldn’t bear to rank it any lower.

Francis Farewell Starlite approaches his music with a profound delicacy. You can feel in his vocal cadence the thought he’s put behind each syllable, every one meted out with the kind of care one might use while handling a Faberge egg, as though each sentence is fragile enough to fracture into bits if not laid down with the precise degree of gingerness required. It’s a gentle touch that Starlite applies to his production as well – each twinkle of piano, each soulful deep-bass backing vocal, each reverb-y crackle of digital percussion aligned just so, with both precision and purpose. There’s an astonishing amount of complexity running just below the surface throughout Like A Dream, and yet it somehow adds up to spare, intimate simplicity.

Also: closing track “Etc.” is my favorite song of 2013. To quote myself:

Spare, economical and understated, “Etc.” feels more like a koan than a song — a lyrical mania that slowly deconstructs itself to a blank calm; a circular piano-and-drum loop that instructs you to breathe deep and slow; a synthy coda paired with airy falsetto that, together, dessicate tension. In a year where the culture wars, especially online, felt like a nightmarish game of Pee Wee Herman’s “Scream Real Loud” (we all lost), Francis Farewell Starlite’s trip from confusion to conclusion bypassed resolution entirely in favor of acceptance; in the process, it kept me sane, three minutes and twenty-seven seconds at a time.

In a bit of serendipitous coincidence, I’m seeing Francis & the Lights live tonight, for the first time in over three years. Like A Dream was well worth waiting for – I have no doubt tonight will be the same.