Variety Lights made its debut in 2012 with an album that was going to be laden with certain expectations no matter what, thanks to the identity of one of its two members. Beyond that, though, hearing anything involving David Baker that starts with a rigorous interplay of electronic beats and synth/guitar stabs is sufficiently startling on first blush. Whether in the early days of Mercury Rev or his briefly lived Shady project, Baker seemed to be all about messy, sprawling psychedelia that randomly tested limits. But hearing his vocal wails and extended stretching out of words on "Starlit," finding melodies seemingly in isolation from the music but still suiting them, is both comforting and inspiring, a demonstration on how not to repeat the past. The further keyboard swirls and uncertainties introduced add to the level of unfocused flow, and from there, Central Flow -- Baker, partnered with fellow synth and psychedelic enthusiast Will MacLean, demonstrates just why it's not only good to have him back, but that the end result is a joy in its own right. If anything, straight synth pop this isn't; the feeling is more like various metallic collages -- as with the ringing "Sea Faraway," with its irregular clatters and a more tunefully benign whimsy. Songs like "Establishment" and "Oh Setting Sun" touch look back to Baker's past with their slightly Beach Boys-gone-bedroom pop feelings and a distinct American heartiness, for lack of a better term. "Silent Too Long" could almost be a commentary on Baker's extended absence, at least implicitly; if nothing else it's a fun little lope of a number, one of the steadier melodies from both parties further slathered with quirky tones and interjections. That it ends on an enjoyable instrumental with "Infinity Room" seems an appropriate touch -- even without Baker's voice, the duo happily wants to get you lost in the music in full.
AllMusic Review by Ned Raggett