Friday, September 11, 2009

Lightning Dust's "Infinite Light"

(Originally published on In Review Online. Lightning Dust plays tonight at the 400 Bar.)

If you have seen or heard Black Mountain, you immediately take note of Amber Webber. She lends lead vocals to less than half of their songs, but does so in stark contrast to Stephen McBean solid but uninspiring vocals. Competing with burly riffs and keyboard space jams may not be every vocalist dream, but Webber’s ability to send her powerful warble just about the fray is amazing. Her searing voice adds a haunting depth to their critically acclaimed Into the Future, which was categorized by lyrics about witchery, nightmares, demons and blood that is scrawled on the wall.

During a break, Webber and Black Mountain percussionist and pianist Joshua Wells decided to casually pursue some other interests. What began as a few cassette tapes for friends under the moniker Amber and Josh, eventually turned into a full-blown release and a much better name. Although their self-title 2007 debut arrived with little fanfare, the mellow and keyboard-heavy alt-country sound of Lightning Dust put Webber’s voice in the deserved spotlight. Ghostly and sparse, their first release has a unique but slightly underwhelming sound, and, unfortunately, the allure of the paired-down ensemble wears off after multiple spins.

Two years later Weber and Wells are still pursuing these ‘other interests’ in the form of a new full length, Infinite Light. Webber’s vocals are just as mesmerizing, but the musical accompaniment no longer seems to be just a backdrop. The trick, however, is to find the balance between Weber’s spontaneous showboating voice and a compelling texture for it to mesh with. Fortunately, it is a trick that Wells seems up for. Finding his stride, Wells pumps the songs on Infinite Light with even amounts of fuzzy keyboards and ebullient piano. Compared to their beautifully dour yet even-toned first release, the rollicking piano boogie “The Times” almost comes as a shock. Heart pounding piano backed by the rhythm of bongos would almost have been unthinkable two years ago. Lightning Dust has beefed up their instrumentation, most notably adding percussion to the mix. The drive is much more powerful, even in the slower songs.

Gone are the demons and the blood as Webber focuses her lyrical energies on life, love and the pursuit of sentimentality. Despite their newfound buoyancy, Lightning Dust has not left all things melancholic behind and some of the best tracks revel in nostalgic sorrow. Love songs to locales and memoirs to moments are the ambiance of Infinite Light. “Never Seen” is melodrama that is waiting to be exposed. Webber’s vibrato quavers and Wells works the Casio effects to create an emotional resonance. Opening track “Antonia Jane” uses the same beautiful machinations to pull you into their musical theatrics. But, much like their debut, too many of the songs slide from memory all too soon. The unvarying qualities of the later half of the CD is pleasant without being engaging. Lightning Dust has staked out some very interesting ground revealing more possibility than limitations, and Infinite Light’s moments of anticlimax are only disappointing compared to their moments of perfection.

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