“ETC,” a new single for the London label Good Years, is the first piece of new music from Francis And The Lights since 2010’s “It’ll Be Better.” The cooly ethereal, atmospheric track is sparse and downtempo and combines vocals, drum machines and piano into a seamless whole. I guarantee the opening chord progression will loop through your brain over and over again. The video for the song focuses on a pair of shoes sitting next to a bed, until Francis puts his feet in them at the very end and walks away. It’s all so minimal.
Music is a crowded field. That’s why the hardest part about being an artist is coming up with your own visual and sonic language. How do you do it? New York City-based soul/electronica outfit Francis And The Lights is Francis Farewell Starlite and, yes, that’s his actual birth name. Influenced by James Brown and Michael Jackson, which is evident if you watch him dance around on stage, Francis And The Lights has penned film scores, played Coachella in 2011, toured with Ke$ha, La Roux, and MGMT, and Francis himself wrote a song for Das Racist and produced “Thank Me Later” from Drake’s debut record. But what’s remarkable about the band is the infectious intellectualism and purity of what Francis And The Lights is all about. Clarity, simplicity, little excess, minimalism — all ideas borrowed from William Strunk Jr.’s 1918 masterpiece The Elements of Style:
To be honest, my mother gave me that book as a gift. It was surprising to me and unexpected. I think it was a curiosity to her, but it changed my life absolutely…The story revolves around a class he took taught by Mr. Strunk. There was a little book that went along with the course. It was a grammar guide. He describes Mr. Strunk’s demeanor and style of teaching and the power of this little book. What follows is the music, which is very clinical. It is punctuation and grammar. The book is a writing guide — when to use a comma and other information. There is so much more to it. It is basically a work of minimalism and human brevity. The other thing that it is, is an argument for doing things the right way, the best way you can, the standard way…If you do things succinctly and you say only things that need to be said, that’s when style happens. That is when your self comes through. When you try and be something — that is when it is contrived and confusing.
“Ultimately,” Francis told Out magazine, “it’s just to do less, do less, do less. It’s as hard as it gets. I fail at it more than I succeed. I say to myself, ‘Try harder to do less. Just do the thing — the real thing — the heart of what it is. Get to that and fuck the extra shit. Do the real thing.’ That is what all that is.” In this case, less really is more.