Francis and the Lights has popped up on the bottom half of bills, opening for everyone from Les Savy Fav to Drake, but they’ve never been breathlessly blogged about. In fact, I don’t think I’ve ever read anything about the band that wasn’t printed on tour posters. I knew they were from New York, I knew I liked their name, and I always thought they could be some hidden treasure the indie populace had yet to uncover. Unfortunately, their debut full-length, It’ll Be Better, justifies all of that anti-hype entirely. It’s an eight-song album with hardly a moment of interest, lacking guts, potential, and marketability.
There’s a lot to dislike about It’ll Be Better: Every track is riddled with tired pastiches, but what truly makes the album egregious is the band’s misunderstanding of itself on an elemental level. Fundamentally, Francis and the Lights makes “white people music”—fluffy, unassuming, and willfully insubstantial. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. Anyone who pretends Hall & Oates doesn’t have a few great songs is only trying to fool themselves into some holier-than-thou enclave of hipsterdom. If the band committed to that placing of sugary, Manilow-ian pop all the way, It’ll Be Better might’ve had a chance at some tacky, nostalgia-fueled glee, but instead it seems they want it both ways. They overstuff every last one of their compositions with flat-footed polyrhythms and needless studio effects until all the charm the songs might’ve had is weighed down. The band tried to make a headphones album out of background-music ingredients, and it really doesn’t work.
The closest It’ll Be Better comes to succeeding is the title track, and unsurprisingly, it’s also the album’s simplest song—just Francis’s voice alongside some placid guitar and wooden percussion. Outside of that one moment of adequacy, though, the record has absolutely no reason to exist. It’s short, boring, and occasionally aggravating, recalling the flatness of acts like Maroon 5 and John Mayer while never coming close to their likeability, and when you’re being rocked off the stage by Adam Levine, it’s not a good sign.