Release Date: Jun 25, 2013
Record label: Jagjaguwar
Genre(s): Pop/Rock, Alternative/Indie Rock, Indie Rock, Indie Electronic, Indie Folk, Space Rock
In my review of Showtime's Lisa Kudrow vehicle Web Therapy, I mentioned that the worst piece of advice I ever received was from a well-intentioned but misguided friend who told me that “feelings are just chemicals. ” Amber Webber, one half of Canadian duo Lightning Dust, must have received similar false comfort from a friend, but actually bought it hook, line, and sinker: “Whisper to me that you've had enough/Apologize that you're not in love/If it's just the chemicals in our brains/Stop, stay,” she pleads on “Diamond,” the opening track of the band's latest album, Fantasy. Webber makes similar such laments about fading love throughout the album in a quivering, reverb-cloaked vibrato backed by sparse, minimalist arrangements of ominous, creeping synths, Wurlitzer, and occasional acoustic guitar.
Vancouver indie duo Lightning Dust began as an outlet for the gentler side of Amber Webber and Josh Wells' muse, away from the heavy trudge of their other band, Black Mountain. Their first recordings embraced a minimal and ghostly folk outlook, while second album Infinite Light got weirder and angrier without necessarily growing heavier. Third album Fantasy finds the pair taking yet another stylistic turn, working with outdated rhythm boxes, synthesizers, and only the most bare-bones remnants of their earlier organic instrumentation that adds a brooding synth pop flavor to their always strong melodic components.
Lightning Dust's career to date has progressed in a linear fashion, with each successive album moving further in the direction of synth-driven pop. On their third LP, the Vancouver, BC-based duo of Amber Webber and Joshua Wells (both of whom play in psychedelic hard rock combo Black Mountain) fully embrace vintage electronics and '80s-style teen movie keyboards. These twinkling arrangements pair perfectly with Wells' dramatic vibrato, and she effectively channels the steely-eyed cool of the Knife on the creepily danceable "Loaded Gun.
The relevance of music originating from Canada has surged in recent years, most notably courtesy of Arcade Fire whose three albums to date have firmly established them as one of the biggest bands in the world. Another high calibre band – although less heralded globally – is stoner rock outfit Black Mountain. Residing in Vancouver, British Columbia, they have also released three albums, the latest of which Wilderness Heart flirted with the UK album charts, peaking at a modest 45 in 2010.
Amber Webber and Joshua Wells have once again set aside the tambourines and drum kits they use in Black Mountain to pursue more solemn, ultra-minimalist sounds as Lightning Dust. On their third album, the Vancouver duo let go of earlier campfire-folk tendencies for a downtempo electronic style few of us expected. But killer opening track Diamond, with its retro familiarity and slow-building hooks, dispels any doubts about their abilities as a synth pop band.
One of the first sounds you’ll hear on Fantasy, the third LP from Lightning Dust’s Amber Webber and Joshua Wells, is that of acceleration. Beneath the up-tempo beats and plush synths of lead single “Diamond”, you’ll find a second-long loop that evokes a spaceship as it eases into warp speed. It’s a fitting sample, one that announces the band’s immersion in space-age sonics as it forecasts the album’s propulsive undercurrents.
After four albums (including one post-apocalyptic surf movie soundtrack) mining the proggy bass chugging wizardry of Yes, the black hole guitar-driven R&B of Blue Cheer, the dankest parts of Led Zeppelin’s mountain mystic folk rock, and some Velvet Underground proto-punk, the Vancouver-based sludge psych band Black Mountain is a known quantity among classic rock revivalists. But the way their aesthetic trickles down to its members' side projects provides an interesting angle on their approach. Lead singer/guitarist Stephen McBean’s debut album with Grim Tower is the most recent example, combining strains of bluegrass with pitch black psychedelic textures to create a “new acoustic death folk” ensemble with former Yeah Yeah Yeah’s guitarist Imaad Wasif.
Both the pleasure and frustration of Lightning Dust’s first two albums derived from how scattershot the songs were. Brooding and despondent one moment, they would suddenly spike in tempo and mood the next. Maybe that’s why “Fantasy,” the third release from the Vancouver indie-rock duo of Amber Webber and Josh Wells, is so satisfying as a whole album.
Lightning Dust’s Amber Webber has a cinematic voice. It’s easy to say an album itself is cinematic, because when you’re doing something (driving down a bleak road, waiting in a doctor’s office, sitting alone at a bar) and listening to music, it automatically becomes the soundtrack to whatever that thing you’re doing is. But if a person’s voice is cinematic, it’s like their vocal chords have been plucked from the orchestra pit of a theater and implanted in their throat.
If at times on their first two albums, Lightning Dust (2007) and Infinite Light (2009), Amber Webber and Joshua Wells allowed the distinctiveness of their sound to predominate over their original and rarely less than interesting musical ideas, here on Fantasy they demonstrate a more assured set of songwriting skills. The tentative nature of some tracks from the earlier albums (‘Days Go By’ hesitantly concluding Lightning Dust, for example) here gives way to more defined structural considerations, although anyone looking for 2013 versions of the sub-Sabbathisms from Black Mountain’s In the Future will look in vain here. The increased confidence the duo have as an intrinsic unit, rather than as simply an offshoot of Black Mountain, is clear on Fantasy.