More Than Lights' debut prescribes dose for those funky illz


When you first discover Minneapolis' own More Than Lights -- the eclectic septet and block party funk mob on the mic, strings, and electronics -- you might think they belong to an updated realm of "Sesame Street."

Toddlers aside, promo photos feature band members in various colored winter hats, which isn't a bad testament to their multi-flavored family vibe. Some of the tunes from their November 21 debut album, The Electric Prescription For All Your Funky Illz, are straight-up bursts of jubilation (sometimes simply thankful for the air in our lungs); others deal in the compassionate heat of some of life's chance moments. Either way, you'll want to warn the youth inside you: these pleasantries might induce lots of hand-holding, spontaneous ecstasy, and maybe a little jazz in those hips.

Beginning as a trio of musically-inclined art students in 2002, MTL have finally snowballed into a careful bit of positive-feeling chemistry, playing a multitude of venues from Mankato to Minneapolis to Menomonie, Wis. In 2004, Unicus and New MC of hip-hop group Kanser joined the likes of vocalist Natalie Fine, guitarist virtuoso Matiu Unga and drummer Corey Hess (whose producing talents led the group to record the album out of his bedroom). The final installment came in 2007, when Augsburg students Josh "Jellyfish" Holmgren (keyboards, saxophone) and Chris Hunnicut (bass) took up arms with the crew, ready to preach the righteous soul of a group already steeped in musical gifts.

Their efforts spawned a seminal blend of blues and jazz, latin beats and big band, hip-hop and new-school hotness. It's a constantly shifting spotlight. It might be Fine's vocal graces ("I take inspiration like it's medicine/Swallowing it down, so I can pass it out again") or Unga's wily solos (the delicious "Eyes of a Lady"), guest lyricists or the lighthearted whimsy of Kanser's big men on campus.

A couple of Kanser's old bones, FutureRetroLegacy's "Legacy" and "Pleasant," are refurbished with new marrow on the album, but that's the only familiarity with the self-written, self-released 11-song set.

The gentle beckon of "Look Around" has New MC describing a struggle between conscience and necessity. It's a reflective tone perpetuated by lulling, tinny chords and Hess' streetwise scratching, giving it a sad, smooth underbelly. "Bring the Heat" provides the counterweight, combining poppy piano and tenacious guitars with a lusty tennis match between Unicus and Fine, who volley verses like Sean Paul and Shakira on an all-night sexual bender.

Other highlights include the irresistible group singalong "Everywhere We Go" and the multi-layered, George-Clinton's-in-your-kitchen banger, "Fireflies," reminiscent of Warren G's days. Collaborations with rock/hip-hop group Parallax and Hives Inquiry Squad lyricist Lucas Dix only strengthen the familial bonds the band aims to create and keep.

And that's really what they're about in the end: making the largest family even larger, if only because the cuisine is great and the conversation is engaging. The cliche, "We're all in this together," wasn't enough for one utterance. More Than Lights had to switch on the floodlights to drive away the darkness of being alone.