Rainbow Lights is the debut album by Gothenburg musician Karl Vento and it’s a glorious mix of the epic and the understated. It’s a beautiful, sweeping, heartfelt delight with both micro and macro songs that get better with every listen.
Prior to the release of Rainbow Lights, Karl has been the consummate accompanist having worked with the likes of Anna Von Hausswolff and one of my all-time favourite artists Sandra, Sumie, Nagano (who also appears on the album). When playing with her I saw first-hand Karl’s preternatural gift for using his guitar playing and effects to enhance and surround someone else’s music. His sonic empathy can range from swells of layered guitar chords, gentle finger picking to masterful use of an eBow and a loop pedal.
But now it’s Karl’s turn to stand in the spotlight and on Rainbow Lights he has brought us a collection of songs that have been percolating and forming over 4 years. The attention to detail is outstanding, whether it’s the restraint on tracks like ‘Pearly Gates’, ‘One Of Billions’ or ‘Going Down’, which seem to offer a gentle hand on your shoulder, through to the bombast of tracks like ‘Out Of Control’ or the heroic procession of ‘No Thing’. Guitar may be Karl’s main instrument (just check out the gentle susurration of his rapid picado playing on ‘Pearly Gates’), but Rainbow Lights demonstrates not only his skill on bass, keyboards and glockenspiel but his ability to write compelling tunes delivered in a plaintive voice that glides in and around the songs, neither too fragile nor too bold.
This is a Goldilocks of an album with everything from instruments and effects placed perfectly with the precision of a watch maker. But despite this attention to detail the album never sounds laboured or over-worked as there is a looseness which imbues the tracks with an abundance of humanity. The sound of this album is also a credit to Filip Leyman who worked alongside Karl to produce, play on and arrange everything so exceptionally (as he has done with many of Sumie’s releases).
Every listen unlocks a new level of appreciation for the music and the musician. I’ve met Karl on numerous occasions and Rainbow Lights is like the man himself: confident without being arrogant, and full of quiet optimism and warmth. Hope spills out of every musical pore and though his lyrics never preach you can feel the yearning for a better world, something that feels genuine and free from sentimentality. Rainbow Lights is in my top five albums of the year and the more I listen to it the more I feel it growing into one of my all-time favourite albums.
Review by Paul F Cook