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Lightning Dust - Infinite Light

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Artist: Lightning Dust

Album: Infinite Light

Label: Jagjaguwar

Review date: Aug. 3, 2009


Lightning Dust - "I Knew" (Infinite Light)


Lightning Dust takes a slight veer toward the pop on this second outing from Black Mountain regulars Amber Webber and Josh Wells. Where their self-titled effort was all eerie tremulousness, sparse arrangements and bleak lyrical visions, Infinite Light lets in the sunshine. Here, Appalachian rawness gives way to bright 1970s piano chords and runs, rhythmic slashes of cello and violin. The pace is faster, the drums more insistent. There are even handclaps, faint but there, in opener “Antonia Jane.” Webber’s soft, decadent vibrato still carries emotional freight, but Infinite Light is less gothic, less cobwebbed and spooky than the debut.

Consider, for instance, “I Knew,” the album’s perkiest, most rock-friendly track. It starts in a dry thud of electronic drums, a tense foundation that sounds like a heartbeat jacked on adrenaline. Webber comes in abruptly, a capella for a bar or two, in a raw burst of untutored country blues, fluted at the edges with yodels and hitches. At the chorus, she stretches one-syllable words over four or five notes, “I knew-ew-ew-ew-ew,” wheeling wildly before she lands it in the phrase-ending “love.” The song picks up guitars, keyboards, snare, but never seems to put on much weight. It lurches and rattles forward relentlessly, a loose boulder bounding down a hill, picking up speed as it goes. “The Times,” a couple of tracks later, is of the same ilk, pushed forward on a jittery engine of bongos and bass (a little like “Sympathy for the Devil,” but not too close).

Even when Webber and Wells slow things down, a pop-flavored gloss remains, coming through, most often, in the keyboard arrangements. Electro-pop “Never Seen” would be far more ethereal and odd without the 1970s slow dance shimmer of Rhodes. Its late track foray into Enya-ish harmonies would sound more unmoored without the new wave squiggles of dance synth underneath it.

What’s almost gone is the freak-folky luminescence of the first Lightning Dust, the unearthly tremble of Wells’ voice. Here, too, she sings with a soft center of decadence, like a bruised peach whose sugars are turning into something darker and more interesting. You can hear it best on the slower tracks, “Antonia Jane,” and “Waiting on the Sun To Rise,” yet even these songs are stronger, surer and less spectral than her earlier work. More often, her voice is folded into lush, orchestrated arrangements that mute its sharper unworldly tang.

Last time out, the surprise was that Black Mountain’s main rock diva could craft so fragile a set of songs. This time, she and Wells seems intent on demonstrating that members of even the shaggiest rock outfits have a pop side, too. If you’ve been waiting to see someone try to splice together Carol King and Karen Dalton – and more or less pull it off – this is your record.

By Jennifer Kelly

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