It’s late afternoon, and The Light Upstairs are practicing in a living room in North Austin. The duo are preparing for their album release show at the Cactus Café in September of 2014, in support of their 3rd full-length album, Breathing Out & In.

The house they’re practicing in belongs to band member Christian Glakas, who stands across from his bandmate, Emily McLeod. Both have guitars in hand and sing in close harmony, taking turns on lead vocals. The trees sway gently outside, and margaritas sit at knee level on a nearby coffee table. Every so often, Glakas’ 2-year-old daughter passes through the room.

The Light Upstairs are in their element. While practice is just the two of them, this is typically how the band performs — as a duo. The pleasures of domestic life can be felt throughout their songs, with occasional changes of mood. Seasons are referenced, and there is a sense that The Light Upstairs embrace life in totality. They are a band of duality, of light and dark, and their latest release may be their most realized work yet.

Breathing Out & In is firmly rooted in folk like TLU’s earlier releases, except this time there’s greater stylistic exploration that pushes the boundaries of the band’s sound. “I'm really excited that almost every song on the record can be my favorite song on the record, on a different day,” says Glakas. In addition to his guitar work and vocals, he penned four of the songs on the record. His bandmate, Emily McLeod, penned the remaining five.

Previous recordings feature McLeod’s voice primarily, but now there’s greater distribution of the vocal work. The record begins with the old-timey, hymn-inspired title track — featuring both Glakas and McLeod’s vocals at the forefront, singing with precision and confidence. It’s a promising statement about the quality of work to follow.

“We're really, really excited about it,” Glakas says of the new record. “Obviously because of the new songs that we wrote, but almost mainly because of how good the musicians are that we got to play with us.”

He’s referring to Jimmy McFeeley on bass, Kevin Lance on percussion, and Gavin Tabone on keys. McFeeley and Lance bring elegant propulsion to Breathing Out & In, while Tabone adds soulful color with his occasional flourishes of Wurlitzer. Songs such as “Tiller & The Wheel” and “Rose of Jericho” especially benefit from the additional contributions.

Breathing Out & In feels like a pair of paintings in the Glakas home. On one wall, there’s a child’s finger painting that’s bright with primary colors. On the adjoining wall, there’s a dark painting of a castle at twilight, overlooking the ocean. This juxtaposition captures the emotional range of the band’s latest record, as well as the dualism of the band members themselves.

McLeod is soft-spoken and rarely talks at the band’s gigs. Glakas frequently engages with the audience, always joke-ready, and a willing spokesman. The tension of personalities combines to form The Light Upstairs — a duo that produces music both hopeful and sorrowful, kinetic and contemplative, and always of a spiritual nature.

Christian Glakas and Emily McLeod (then Burns) first met in 2005, in the band The Last Gasp. The band ran its course, and McLeod and Glakas found themselves playing quiet folk songs that McLeod had written. The collaboration resulted in their 2010 debut LP, Disconnecting the Dots.

Disconnecting the Dots was recorded on rented equipment at McLeod’s home in South Austin. During the session, the band mates took an evening smoke break, and looked towards the upstairs room where the album was being recorded — seeing the illuminated window in the darkness, the band’s name was decided.

The Light Upstairs honed their live act in small bars and clubs around Austin — including a memorable night at the now-shuttered Flipnotics, where they performed an entire set to a rapt audience around one microphone. They were occasionally joined by percussionist Gray Parsons, but performed exclusively as a duo for the most part.

Their sophomore release, 2012’s The Hour of the Pearl, was a breakthrough for the band — they performed a sold-out album release show at Lamberts Downtown Barbecue, and were invited to be the Cactus Café’s October “Artist in Residence,” resulting in a run of weekly performances at the historic Austin venue.

Around this time, NPR affiliate KUT invited The Light Upstairs to play a live set on air. Upon first hearing and seeing the band play live, radio host John Aielli likened the band’s sound to “stained glass in a quiet church.”

KUT also played several tracks from The Hour of the Pearl, and selected the song “Taxi” as “Song of the Day.”

The band has also opened for Grammy award-winner Eric Johnson, and critically-acclaimed Portland, Oregon band Y La Bamba.

But when asked what the coolest thing is that’s happened for the band so far, McLeod simply states how glad she is that she and Glakas are still creating music together. Both are excited about the band’s latest album’s release in vinyl form (a first for TLU), as well as playing gigs outside of Austin in the coming days.

Likeness characterizes The Light Upstairs as much as duality these days. Both Glakas and McLeod are now married (though not to each other), and each has one daughter.

“The biggest way that family life has inspired the band, is that it's made us really productive,” says Glakas. “I’ve found a balance that makes me really happy, which lets me write music that I really want to write...that there's hope for things and that life can be really good.”

As afternoon practice wraps up for The Light Upstairs, a mandolin lays unceremoniously on the couch. A cat meows somewhere in the house, and Glakas’ daughter makes another pass through the living room. None of this seems to disturb the band, and if anything, the noises and music combine into a blissful, domestic ambience.

“All of my songs are about the same thing,” says McLeod. “Everything's already perfect, and we just don't know.”

In the opening track of Breathing Out & In, Glakas and McLeod sing, “what is life? Beauty, that’s all.” And at least for now, there’s no better way to put it.