I’ve been a fan of electro R&B musician Francis and the Lights for a number of years, but even I’m surprised by how powerful his new record is.
Farewell, Starlite! got a surprise release this past Saturday. It came just as he was taking the stage as part of collaborator Chance the Rapper‘s Magnificent Coloring Day Festival in Chicago. We’d already had a preview of some of the album’s strongest material in the months preceding the release. From the Bon Iver / Kanye West collaboration “Friends” to the Bon Iver co-produced track “See Her Out,” expectations were immensely high. Yet somehow, Francis Farewell Starlite blew even those expectations away.
Ten songs long, there’s not a single lull in the record. After the first listen, I immediately went back to the beginning and hit play again. I’d heard Francis play through the album live twice already this year. The first came at the Troubadour and later opening for Chance at the Greek Theatre. He manages to capture his incredible energy he brought to the stage on the studio recordings.
“Friends” helped grow Francis’ profile at a good clip after Chance, Kanye and other famous friends tweeted the link. It’s the record’s second-to-last album, and everything leading up to it is just as delicious. “See Her Out” has this epic synth beat that catches you off guard in the best way and takes you for a ride.
The next track “Comeback” is one of my other favorites. The song seems to be about Francis’ friend who decides against going with him and his crew to a party. “It turned out to be / Something quite special / A really cool party / A solid group of people and / I wish you could have been there,” Francis sings. Then the synth kicks in heavy. I got goosebumps the first time that beat comes in.
“Can’t Stay Party” features a heavy Bon Iver-like vocal to open up. Then it quickly switches back to Francis’ signature Phil Collins meets Peter Gabriel type vocals. The Phil Collins thing only gets more apparent on the fifth track, “May I Have This Dance.” If you told me this one was written by Collins, I’d believe it. The percussion-led track comes right out of Collins’ best work from the early-to-mid ’90s. His falsetto on the chorus resembles Gabriel on “Solsbury Hill” a bit. “May I have this dance? Can I say something crazy? I love you,” Francis sings on the heart-filled chorus.
“My City’s Gone” is one of the more tempered tracks on the record, and features a little Kanye to go with it. It features some Kanye 808s & Heartbreak style autotuned backup vocals from West. It’s not even close to my favorite track but it’s still really strong.
10My favorite track is perhaps “It’s Alright to Cry,” the eighth song on the record. The melody is extremely reminiscent of something I haven’t been able to put a finger on just yet. “It’s alright to cry, it might make you feel better, babe,” Francis reminds us in the track’s soaring chorus.
The mostly minimalist beats that accompany this album put a lot of focus on the songwriting and vocals of Francis. It’s something he’s been doing for years, but has definitely headed in a more R&B and electronic direction on this record than previous efforts. It’s easy to see why he’s been a collaborator with the likes of Kanye, Bon Iver’s Justin Vernon, The Weeknd, Drake, Cashmere Cat and others in the last several years. He’s got a unique flavor that pairs nicely with all of those guys’ work.
Now that he’s dropped this album, Francis could start getting the kind of notoriety for his own work rather than his production credits. It wouldn’t be a moment too soon and there’s a reason he’s one of the Names to Know.