After years in the making here at last is Illumination, the fully realized debut album from Australia’s favourite psychedelic indie-electronic adventurers Miami Horror. With Illumination, Miami Horror has delivered on the promise of two years of teeth-cutting live shows and an ever escalating wave of buzz that’s made the group bonafide blog darlings the world over. But what’s most amazing about the grand arrival of Illumination is that the roots of the record stretch back countless moons to when Miami Horror began as just one synthesizer-obsessed producer huddled over a laptop in a bedroom-come-studio and the album itself just a spark waiting to be lit.
Kick started by Ben Plant, Miami Horror was created out of a love of Roland keyboards and French house, landing the young producer on everyone’s radar overnight with a slew of sharp remixes and productions in his arsenal. Yet it was while Ben was punching out 2008’s epochal Bravado EP that Miami Horror took off in a completely new and different direction thanks to the recruitment of Josh Moriarty, the wiry guitarist and dexterous vocalist that would become Miami Horror’s powerhouse frontman. Together the two cut the lushly organic summer jam Sometimes with Josh on croon duties and the idea to drastically alter Miami Horror’s genetic makeup into a crowd-swelling live entity was born.
“It started out that I didn’t want to have any guitar on the album besides a little funk guitar or disco bass,” Ben grins while explaining the turning point for Miami Horror’s evolution. “But then Josh came in and started playing all these other parts that sounded amazing. Paired with what I was working on, nobody was doing anything like it, so I knew we had to turn those sounds into a live thing and just go wild.”
With Ben and Josh wanting to flex their creative muscles and avoid the limitations of being stereotyped as simply a dance or electro act, the pair rewired Miami Horror’s future, deputising two new talents with Dan Whitechurch taking up the keys and drummer and co-production whiz Aaron Shanahan completing Miami Horror’s live transformation.
Since the switch Miami Horror has launched into dizzying new stratospheres, their well-polished chops as a live group making for some unmissable sets at Australia’s biggest festivals leading to sell-out shows in Rio, Mexico City, New York and Los Angeles – the latter of which Miami Horror will call home when they relocate in September ‘11.
“I think we have a lot of energy live and people seem to really resonate with it,” Josh explains of Miami Horror’s live allure. “I’ve always been disappointed by that side of electronic music that’s just two guys behind computers triggering samples with no connection with an audience. This is a real live rock band. I just want to excite people and make them have a great time at our shows,” he adds when quizzed on his firebrand onstage persona. “People have, and always will love showmanship and it’s something I always try to add to the performance.”
All this time Ben had been further noodling away at Miami Horror’s long-awaited debut disc and with the vision for a fully-blown and creatively shared band now fulfilled Miami Horror was able to pour all of their energy into Illumination, the record that’s taken Miami Horror years to perfect and Ben a whole lifetime to get right.
Bunkering down in Ben’s own studio in Melbourne, Illumination was recorded in typical Miami Horror fashion with the band opening themselves up to new styles and approaches which saw them call in a cast of guest stars including Swedish singer MAI, Melbourne based chanteuse Kimbra, Dappled Cities’ wordsmith Tim Derricourt for a lyrical assist and also Neon Indian and Vega prodigy Alan Palomo who flew out from the US to add his distinctive haze to multiple tunes.
As well as crafting a truly classic album that begs to be consumed from beginning to end to fully uncover all the layers and engrossing sonic textures of each tune, Ben says the aim with Illumination was to present an accurate portrait of the band’s current core and not make things too “glossy” and “hi-fi”, with Ben himself producing and engineering the album from the confines of his bedroom.
As such, listening to Illumination is like a guided tour of Miami Horror’s combined minds, with enormous flying grooves gliding through the speakers alongside nods to the deities of French house and vintage synth explorers like Giorgio Moroder and Jan Hammer, all mixed and muddled up with slabs of melting, fuzzy psychedelica, some wandering kraut rock bass-lines, enough star-gazing hooks to make Electric Light Orchestra blush, plenty of ear-catching pop swagger and Ben’s own studied cinematic aesthetics. Never content to stand still, Miami Horror ambitiously test their boundaries across the album, experimenting with lush, almost chillwave instrumentals (see the gorgeous Infinite Canyons), futuristic disco gems (I Look To You), summer-bound party jams (Holidays) and anthem-sized synth epics (Sometimes).
Although all four members of the band admit to a serious case of perfectionism with months spent, refining, tweaking and endlessly perfecting Illumination, Ben explains the process was worth the time and energy invested. “We spent about ten months alone mixing the album, which is a process that should normally take two weeks,” Ben laughs. “We always just said ‘f**k it, we have to make the album that we want to make’ and this is it. We made it.”
Yes, this is their moment. And though it seemed like an electro-dreamer’s distant fantasy four years ago, Miami Horror’s same excited sense of wonder has only ballooned from then to now. If you haven’t already heard the gospel, expect to be converted to the cause any second now.