Costa Music: Lighter Subjects

In the wake of L'altra's apparent demise, Joseph Costa returns with a debut album that replicates the Chicago-based band's sound minus, of course, the luscious vocal presence of former partner Lindsay Anderson. A production contributor to L'altra's 2005 release Different Days, Telefon Tel Aviv's Joshua Eustis appears in a mixing role that complements the production involvement of Marc Hellner (Pulseprogramming); other collaborators include cellist Fred Lonberg-Holm and vocalist Aleksandra Tomaszweska.

Costa's an appealing singer and his songs are multi-tiered, acoustic-electronic settings that may be ballad-like in tempo but are epic in arrangement style. Standard themes of “life, love, loss, and letting go” are explored in nine songs so densely layered they invite the label “wall-of-sound” and, though “Somewhere Listening” might argue otherwise, Costa's music isn't shoegaze but shares with it a similar grandiosity (hear, for example, the sonic heights reached by “Lack of Lights” following its pensive strings-and-piano intro). With its seamless marriage of glitchy electronics and acoustic instrumentation (harps, guitars, drums), “Sounds Like a Sigh” isn't drastically different in style from Different Days or Telefon Tel Aviv's own 2004 album Map of What is Effortless. Costa wisely deviates from the template in “Feathers” and its unusual integration of blues, funk, and jazz elements, and in the country-blues ballad “Southern States” which roots itself in a slow-motion “Be My Baby” drum pattern. But in the long run, while Lighter Subjects is inarguably a solid showing, if I were forced to choose between Costa solo or Costa with Anderson in L'altra, my vote would still clearly go to the latter.

May 2008