And so it arrives, a century--give or take a few years--later than expected, but worth the wait, as so few things ever are. It seems like forever ago (perhaps because it was) that Kim Pendleton and Paul Quigg and that revolving-door rhythm section stood on the Galaxy Club stage and knocked the breath out of a downtown crowd so jaded, it had all but turned to stone. Pendleton, a woman forever on the verge of the verge of stardom, crooned and crushed with a voice made of diamonds and coal, while Quigg bent his guitar till it turned into a crowbar intent on wresting every note out of the scale. They made music like a real couple: They fought and made up on stage, without ever sharing a glance. It's little wonder we expected big things out of Vibrolux, because even then, during the band's first few moments, it seemed too large for such a small, cramped setting. But time passed, until it seemed to pass the band by: A label came calling, invited Pendleton and Quigg to Los Angeles, and then abandoned them in the Hollywood Hills. When the two returned to town last year, they did so quietly and without any notice--a shadow in the middle of the night. One might have assumed they came back with luggage full of embarrassment; they left The Next Big Thing, only to return in tiny pieces.
But only a moron or hard-hearted cynic would dismiss their first (first!) full-length CD as too little, too late--the last gasp on Last Beat, after so many years of so many promises. As it turns out, the two weren't ready to record; their music needed time to grow, mature, ripen. Too many bands rush into the studio when they aren't ready; even more linger in the booth long after their expiration date. Vibrolux--which now also features Clay Pendergrass on bass, Trey Pendergrass on drums, and Paul Williams on guitar and keyboards--waited till just the right time; now, it is unburdened by expectations, theirs or their audience's. That long-ago rock band has become something entirely different: The edges have been smoothed without getting softened, and the arrangements render the uncompromising music as penetrating mood. Vibrolux sounds as though it were made at 2 a.m., at the bottom of a deep, empty bottle.
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The old songs ("Soldier" and "Good Night Sleep") sound better than they did when they first turned up on Dallas Observer Scene, Heard collections; turns out they were demos after all, especially the latter, which soars in the spots where the first version sank just a little. The new disc also allows for songs Beatles-esque (the thrilling "We Love Pepsi"), Bowie ("Win," on loan from Young Americans, and they need not return it) and beat-to-hell (the centerpiece "Where I Stand," a murky, spooky song noir that ends with Pendleton staring into the camera, waving "bye, honey" while insisting that "sometimes, I'm just a sucker," as if). Pendleton has never sounded lovelier or more terrifying: Hers is a dangerous whisper of a voice, that of a weary jazz singer fronting a rock band (or art-rock band, or art-R&B band, by the time you get to "Finest" near album's end). Sometimes, on a song such as the roiling "Love Letters," it's clean and crystalline; other times, it's rough and ragged, a rusty nail that leaves a nasty cut. It's as though two singers live within her, both fighting for control: One possesses a switchblade sneer, the other a radiant smile, and both will cut you just the same.