Lightning Dust - Fantasy | Album Review | By Volume

...was fond of your writing, it allowed me to see into you... The Hotelier - Discomfort Revisited
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Lightning Dust

Fantasy

“The etymology of fantasy links it to illumination – but it’s not that illuminating” – Nice summary, Keelan.

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Author: on June 26, 2013
6.3
Jagjaguwar
June 25, 2013

The compelling thing about 2009’s Infinite Light, Lightning Dust’s second album was that it was even compelling at all; the music seemed almost disinterested at times, if music can even be such a thing, but sitting on top of the whirling hum was that voice. Amber Webber provided something almost spectral, like a lightness over top of Joshua Wells’s instrumentation. But the ghost of her voice was not so much haunting as it was phosphorescent, radiant. It was Webber’s voice that gave songs like “Antonia Jane” their lift, the kind of thing that denied critical naysayers their chance to write off the band as simply semi-popular band A + slightly older band B with a dash of obscure band C. The thing that I have always found strange about this type of formula often yielded by the hip music-critic in-crowd (whatever that means) is that it almost uniformly places the band they are talking about in the actual review at the bottom of an invisible hierarchy, middling somewhere below semi-popular band A, slightly older band B, and obscure band C. So the other compelling thing about Infinite Light was the way it counter-acted this by wholly embracing a set of roots, somewhere mixed between the jam-band 70s rock sound found on Webber and Wells’s main band, Black Mountain, and a whole host of other influences ranging from dark atmospherics to jangly indie-pop. At any given time someone could probably easily spot the pre-cursor, but mostly you forgot about such games in favour of being guided around each musical bend by Webber’s quavering voice.

The other problem with the previously mentioned hierarchy that seems so apparent in reviews that compare artists to other artists is that it tends to forget the very metaphoric nature of the mind, of our capacity for indexicality that allows, nay, forces us, to locate something new via something already known (which doesn’t forgive blatant rip-offs, but gives more leeway in accepting the possibility of “originality” for those who think it’s all gone Pete Tong). So with this in mind, the negative shouldn’t be assumed when I suggest that on Lightning Dust’s newest offering, Fantasy, the sonic touchstones are a little more pronounced and a little more contemporary. Beach House and Chromatics come to mind as immediate influences: both produced excellent records in 2012 focussing on various colours and textures that were both retro and brooding, but also juxtaposed by an airiness and lightness. Fantasy’s opening three-song set closely interweaves textures mined from these influences and undoubtedly it’s the strongest section on the album. Opener “Diamond” really showcases Webber’s vocals overtop of Well’s darkly whirling Wurlitzer figure. The song also showcases one of the most striking differences between Fantasy and Infinite Light, that is, how much darker and pulsating the instrumentation is; gone are the jangling strums of acoustic guitars and in are icy keyboard atmospherics.

“Diamond”, followed by ballad “Reckless and Wild” and the somewhat new-wavy “Mirror”, creates a trio that starts the record off on the right foot, but from there it all seems to drift away, in no particular direction at all. Every time I listen to the album I find myself trying to figure out where exactly I stop paying attention, but I can never quite pinpoint the moment, the song that really drives me away. And that’s exactly the problem with Fantasy; the second half is so inconsequential that invariably I find myself wandering away from what I’m listening to, onto whatever else I might be doing—like, you know, writing this review. “Background music,” although implying negative connotations, isn’t necessarily a bad thing; it’s the backbone of many good ambient artists. But Fantasy slowly fades from engaging at the start to “background music” by the middle to completely unregistered by the end. Even the injection of energy on the bass-heavy “Loaded Gun” misses the mark—its bubbling keys muddled with one of Webber’s least interesting vocal performances.

In fact, that’s the real shame of Fantasy. Tquavering and acrobatic vocal performance that helped make Infinite Light a success, that made sonic influences an ingredient to a greater overall effect, is largely missing. The opening of the album shows a lot of promise by maintaining this key part, as Webber’s vocals really shine, but there just is not any consistency throughout the rest of the album. From time to time these vocals regain grip of the listener, such as on the plucky R n’ B of “In the City Tonight,” but mostly it’s fade-to-black all too quickly for Fantasy. And that’s somewhat disappointing, because Webber and Wells as a duo have provided moments of magic before, and if the opening trio of tracks is any indication, that magic still exists in their chemistry. Perhaps the rest of the album could be chalked up as a semi-failed experiment; it’s too pretty and easy at times to really be a failure, and closer “Never Again” certainly has some gorgeous moments, but mostly it is too inconsequential to be anything more than a shrug of the shoulders.

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