The Christmas Lights! are the electronic creations of Kenny Tompkins. Tompkins has worked as a singer/songwriter and producer for several projects including The Trend and The Royal Army Recording Company, as well as recording and touring as a solo artist.
In 2007 The Christmas Lights! released a split album(with label mates Emil) titled “10 Paces”. This record was received very positively by independent press and fans alike for its mix of 8-bit sugar-pop and experimental noise construction. "Walk Like A Human", The Christmas Lights! debut full-length release, is a mix of ambience, harsh distortion, 3-part harmony vocals, and odd-yet-dance-friendly time signatures. It was written, recorded, mixed and mastered by Kenny Tompkins at the RARC in Frostburg, Maryland.
SELECT REVIEWS AND COMMENTS:
“HQ: Frostburg, MD
NOW PLAYING: Ghost Twins
THE STORY SO FAR: Unlike most in this section, the Christmas Lights frontman Kenny Tompkins and bassist Derek Shank would be content if their career paths veer offstage. Before Tompkins started the progressive electronic outfit as a solo project in 2006, the pair owned a studio. "We hope to be full-time engineers and producers when we grow up," says Tompkins. In the meantime, they brought in synth op Gibb Cockrum and drummer/brother Curt Tompkins, releasing a full-length per year since 2008.
WHY YOU SHOULD KNOW 'EM: Sure, Tompkins named the band after the annual holiday mix CDs he would give to friends, but you shouldn't ignore any band taken on tour with Circa Survive and Good Old War--though we're not sure we believe Tompkins' account of how that happened. "[Circa Survive guitarist] Brendan Ekstrom jogged past our practice space in a business suit and heard us," he says. "He stuck his head in the door and said with a British accent, 'You kids sound great! I'm going to give you your big break!'"
YOU LIKE? YOU'LL LIKE: SELF / MUM / DEERHOOF”
Band Of The Week 4/2/10
“The Christmas Lights make biting, experimental electro-pop. The brainchild of Frostburg-based singer/songwriter Kenny Tompkins, the band released its first full-length album, Walk Like a Human, this summer.
The songs on Walk Like a Human feature swirling synthesizers, pounding beats and three part-harmonies. Tompkins created a mix of both dreamy and nightmarish soundscapes on the album, which is one of the better records to come out of the area this year.”
-WTMD 89.7 Baltimore
Unsigned Artist of the Month
“It's tempting to dismiss The Christmas Lights! as just another electronic indie pop group whose sound draws parallels to contemporaries like The Postal Service and countless others. However, this one-man project of Maryland-based Kenny Tompkins stands out considerably amongst his peers with ‘Walk Like A Human’, an album filled with infectious beat-laden songs and vocal melodies that burrow deep in your cerebrum.
Tompkins constructs most of these pop miniatures around oddly metered dance beats, at times adding liberal doses of distortion and crunch to the mix as on ‘The Water is Gone, The Fire Has Come!’ and ‘Interrogation Song’. In other places, such as ‘Made Young’ and ‘Walk Like A Human’, Tompkins creates an airier atmosphere that provides ample space for his plaintive multi-tracked vocals to carry the song. There are moments midway through the album where a nice balance between these approaches is struck, like on ‘Atlas’ and ‘Begging For A Fire’, which sees Tompkins reaching towards the melancholic grandeur of prime Depeche Mode.
Perhaps if Tompkins was based in Baltimore, rather than Frostburg, this album would be receiving more attention. But based on the strength of these songs alone, I could certainly see ‘Walk Like A Human’ garnering some level of buzz on a larger scale.”
“I’m not sure how much music is coming out of Frostburg, MD but I’m guessing it’s virtually non existent (that’s just me talking with my big city mindset). Of course that was until I heard The Christmas Lights.
The name doesn’t exactly spark a lot of interest (at least for me), but once I pressed play those ideas quickly faded as I was transported into a world of analog synths, dreamy choruses, and cold winters. Kenny Tompkins aka The Christmas Lights creates music that could easily fall into that Postal Service category with his new album Walk Like A Human.
Instead he showed me he has the right touch when writing a tune - 1. Don’t over do it 2. Don’t be afraid to experiment a little. TCL winds synth pop with noise pop and unravels it into some experimental pools of sound in some cases. This debut album is a winner and deserves your support."
The convulsing synths sound like they're buzzing and throbbing underneath a half foot of cooling magma as frontman Kenny Tompkins spins the kind of narrative that's more significant for what it evokes than what it's actually saying per se. message: loneliness will crush, you if you let it.”
-Minneapolis City Pages
5 singles: The songs we can't escape
“Frostburg, Maryland’s The Christmas Lights debut disc, Walk Like A Human recalls moments of The Eraser and an analog-synth preoccupied Beck, and while short on the arena pleasers that Violator offers might make good touring company for late-period Depeche Mode. The warmth of ‘Sign of Life’s keys seem to stand in defiance of its chorus line, ‘no sign of life/ left in her eyes’, reminding us of Ray Kurzweil’s insistence that machines will someday, in the not too distant future, declare their right to life. ‘Made Young’ boasts the same sonic palette used to paste together elements of Kid A, its drum machine carrying on as the songs arrhythmic heartbeat. Certainly the first three tracks of Walk Like A Human are the albums most accessible but that isn’t to say that they are necessarily the best on an electro treasure trove.
Deeper tracks on the album such as ‘Atlas’, its spectral chorus most ready to accept a Gahan harmony, and ‘Begging For A Fire’s odd time signature, provide flesh for the albums bones. Industrial fans of the grey-haired ilk may fancy a spin of ‘Interrogation Song’ which undoubtedly stands as the albums most challenging track along with the album’s title track – one of the best perversions of acapella doo-wop to date.
The tracks are kept succinct with only ‘Atlas’ tracking in at over four minutes which certainly contributes to Walk Like A Human’s replayability. The ease with which Kenny Tompkins and gang navigate through a history of electronic music shows they’ve done their homework, and as any pupil, look to have their eyes focused on some day taking up the pulpit. They’ve showed they can do it on disc; can they keep it up live? Can they make another?”
“Treading heavily on the previous footprints of late turn-of-the-century groups such as The Postal Service and contemporary Passion Pit, The Christmas Lights have released their debut record, Walk Like a Human. The record is a remnant of what was once a burgeoning electro-pop scene but which has since become so saturated with artists borrowing and lending that dividing lines are no longer clear.
Walk Like a Human, however, stands on its own as an honest electronic album, with delicate, cascading synths coming in and out of airy textures over jarring, erratic, compact blips and blushes. Recorded in entirety by Kenny Tompkins, the Christmas Lights' debut seems to rely more on the writing aspect of the music than some of its peers, letting the songwriting take the place of a full band ensemble with traditional instruments.
The album's sound, often dark and musing, gives way to sardonic lyricism sung in tight-lipped reservation. The projected single and most exemplary track, ‘Show Your Teeth’, opens with the words, ‘Talking just feels so ugly/c'mon and show your teeth’ backed by an undulating, arpeggiated synth-bass. ‘Show Your Teeth’ presents the antithetical, hook-driven writing that the band opts to use to pollinate their barren, electronic landscape. Other songs, like the progressive ‘Atlas’ and ‘I Can't Won't Help You’ -- both incorporating diffused, machine-like experimental tendencies -- employ the same motifs as ‘Show Your Teeth’ but seem to wilt in comparison.
To the Christmas Lights' credit, though, there are still bright moments on the record beyond that one song. The opening track, ‘Sign of Life’, does a brilliant job of setting the overarching themes of artificial or inorganic life that decorate much of this album to a visceral wash of electronica. Tompkins sings, ‘No sign of life / left in their eyes / No sign of life / left in mine’, as if to forewarn the listener to the curiously inanimate and caustic nature of Walk Like a Human.
"’Born Young’ is an opulent moment on the record, with an ascending melody in a major mode and lyrics and vocals alluding to, perhaps, a human side to all of the mechanical industry put forth on the album. Other tracks, ‘Interrogation Song’ and ‘The Water is Gone, The Fire has Come!’, show experimental and hard house-style influences but fall short of being forward progress from the album's centralized, minimal, and smooth textures.
This is a defining debut from a talented band, but sometimes it leaves too much out -- it shines, but it does not sparkle. Though, given the scant production, complete use of synths and electronic drums, and the over-arching themes of an unnatural and counterfeit existence in the writing, perhaps that's the effect desired. The gratifying subtle, dark, and conceptual album parades around under the guise of poppy incandescence, which gives Walk like a Human a delightfully deceptive shine.”
-Space City Rock
“SOUNDS LIKE: Christmas is coming early this year!
WHY/WHY NOT: The band name perfectly encapsulates the sound – Walk Like A Human is the aural equivalent to a display of Christmas lights twinkling in the snowy night. As expected, most tracks glitter with lo-fi synth arpeggios and slick electronic production, and had the conceptualization ended there the result would likely have been a tepid rip-off of The Postal Service. However, these tracks have a depth that comes from exploring other connotations surrounding the image of Christmas lights – namely cold, haunting beauty.”