Miranda Lee Richards, outside of her own solo work, has played with the Brian Jonestown Massacre and sang on stage with the Jesus and Mary Chain. On Light of X, she taps Keith Mitchell from Mazzy Star to play drums and Josh Schwartz of Beachwood Sparks to handle the guitars. But for all these people around her who live in fuzz and murk, Richards’ album sounds remarkably clear and uncomplicated. Her sound is a stripped-down one, influenced some by country and folk, but mostly driven by pop accessibility.
It isn’t a complaint to call Light of X uncomplicated. In fact, the album’s few great moments come when Richards is at her most straightforward. Over these lush but basic songs, Richards’ voice is full and beautiful. She can belt out a note as easily as she can quietly lilt one, and the emotive quality of her voice is her greatest asset. “Can you stay, can you stay the night?” she sings to open “Hideaway,” and that plainspoken plea echoes the loneliness of the track better than any metaphor she could come up with. She is just as affecting on “Early November” when she sings, “I’m at the point where things are breaking.” The line is basic, even trite. But the way her voice cracks and falls off on that final “breaking” reveals a real hurt in Richards, one too honest to hide. It is in small moments like these on Light of X when you stop just hearing Richards sing and begin to feel it.
Unfortunately, Richards doesn’t play to her strengths often enough. Too much of Light of X slips out of straightforward and into simple. And her beautiful voice cannot always mask lyrics that are full of images that are at best forgettable and at worst silly. On “Pictures of You,” she equates love to an ocean, claiming it is “bigger and wider than you’ll ever know.” It is bad enough that the simile she’s using is way too easy, but it also implied a world-weariness on Richards part that she hasn’t earned with her unimaginative imagery.
And beneath the simple lyrics, the music all starts to run together. Where high points like “Hideaway” and “Early November” sound compelling on their own, they blend into the lazy breeze of this album. The music dips its toe in influences without actually embracing any of them, and the results might be poppy, but they are also terribly generic. Even the echoed tumbles of guitar on “Here by the Window,” the album’s most adventurous track, can’t keep most of Light of X from sounding like mid-tempo, singer-songwriter pop by the numbers.
In the future, Richards would do well to rely more on her voice. It manages to express more alone, in its clear beauty and subtle inflections, than the words it is forced to sing or the music it rests itself on.