With a gleaming second album, 'Illuminate,' indie rockers Lydia flare up for one final run 

Lydia with Deas Vail, Coney Island and Berkeley to DC
6:30 p.m. Thursday
The Conservatory
8911 N. Western
$10 advance, $12 door

For Lydia, it ends not with a whimper, but an explosion. The pretty, atmospheric emo act from Arizona enjoyed a deliberate ascent that began with winning a national contest to appear on a music compilation alongside acts like Taking Back Sunday, Fall Out Boy and Death Cab for Cutie while the members were still in high school.

The band's second album, 2008's "Illuminate," was picked up for release by an imprint of Universal Motown, and last Tuesday, Lydia self-released its third " and now final " album, "Assailants."

It began with a partnership between singer/guitarist Leighton Antelman and guitarist Steve McGraw while they were still in junior high. The precocious tweens scored numerous gigs opening for local acts, and began touring as soon as they graduated high school in 2005.

"There were a couple of bands around Arizona that were going on tour, and it just looked like a good time," Antelman said. "So we literally hopped on the road and pretty much haven't stopped since."

With "Illuminate," McGraw and Antelman began writing all the music themselves instead of as a band. The tightened craftsmanship was readily apparent in music that swelled, swooned and drifted behind keyboardist Mindy White's backing coo. It's lingering music thick with moodiness like an overcast day over an angry sea.

However, the partnership between them began to crack. As they breached their early 20s, their musical tastes began moving in different directions, making work difficult.

"I don't want to say a struggle, but it was hard to get our two opposite tastes, at this point, together on the record," Antelman said. "He's kind of leaning more in the darker, minor (key) direction, and that's not where I wanted to take it, so it's just creative differences."

Two weeks ago, McGraw intended to join Lydia for its final run, but that changed early last week. In a post on the group's MySpace page, he announced his immediate departure:  "Irreconcilable differences between myself and remaining original members have resulted in thick tension at rehearsals," he wrote. "It was finally too small for the both of us, and someone had to go. I will miss performing these songs one more time in every city but ultimately my departure from the tour is the best for all involved, including you fans."

The band's first break came via a contest at the mall. Lydia's entry, appropriately titled "Smile, You Won," won, landing the act on a national compilation. It was priceless exposure for a high school band, leading to tours with Coheed & Cambria and Sum 41.

In 2005, after graduating, the band released its debut, "This December; It's One More Time and I'm Free." Six months after the release of the follow-up, "Illuminate," Universal signed the group and re-released the album.

But with the way the industry's been going, after paying for preproduction, the major label passed on "Assailants."

"They decided they didn't want to do the new record, which, if I can say it, was probably one of the best things that could've happened to me," Antelman said.

While McGraw finishes up his own new record, Antelman plans to return to Atlanta after the tour to record a as-yet-untitled new project, and then intends to persue a solo album. White, who left the band late last year, is also working on a new project, so on tour, Lydia is bringing along another keyboard player to pick up her parts and background vocals.

The thing Antelman will miss most, he says, is the fans.

"I've never seen people that passionate," he said. "I've never seen so many tattoos of shit I wrote on paper. Every show, there will be at least four people with a tattoo of some lyric or artwork or something. It's just unbelievable." "Chris Parker

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