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. And Amber Webber’s vocal chords are vintage cello strings tied together with bows of silk.
Not to mention what she’s actually singing about. Romantic rambles like “So kiss me before you’re gone/And I will miss you like when our love first began” in “Reckless And Wild” litter the band’s latest album. Such sentiments would be gag-inducing if not combined with Webber’s quiveringly pure voice against flickering beats and roller rink synths. There’s something almost indescribably dark about “Reckless And Wild,” but I’m going to try and describe it anyway: like the album itself, it’s a song that’s aware of its own mortality. The drum machine sounds like the fading breaths of a life-support machine as Webber breathily mourns the inevitable end of a relationship. The album is perpetually nostalgic for the completely unattainable. Fantasy is an appropriate title, because the album works under the assumption that you have one, and then slowly, achingly, pointedly, smashes it.
That doesn’t mean Fantasy isn’t the good kind of slow death. Amber Webber and Joshua Wells (both also members of Black Mountain) started making music under the Lightning Dust moniker in an effort to flesh out skeletons of songs they didn’t quite know what to do with. Fantasy is the band’s third LP, a follow-up to 2009′s Infinite Light, and it’s their most dramatic effort yet. While their self-titled debut and Infinite Light leaned toward gothic folk and post-punk, Fantasy has the duo experimenting more heavily with an electronic, synthy sound. “Loaded Gun” is a prime example of this experimentation. It sounds like a Kid A B-side with arcade-style stuttering beats and snares like angry chihuahuas. Webber’s voice is aggressive and pleading in a way we haven’t yet seen. “Fire Me Up” opens with synths that ricochet off each other like beams of light in a bowling alley as Webber’s soft warble ebbs and flows throughout. Mid-way through the song, the synths build to a rainfall of shimmering beats, that seem to spatter rapidly from out of nowhere. It’s a disorienting burst of energy that’s difficult to shake for songs later.
“In The City Tonight” is the easy high point on the album. The thumping beats make you feel like you’re spinning, moving too fast, while Webber convinces you with her molasses croon that you’re not actually moving at all. The track’s haunting drum thwacks and damp keys plateau in sorrow until the chorus drops in and drags you down into a dark space with seizure-like force. Look in the mirror when you’re listening to this one—your mouth will be open, and your eyes might be damp. It’s a song that pulls you in all directions like a seaside taffy machine and doesn’t leave you with any strong sense of what it is you’re feeling. The credits roll and you’ve already forgotten what the plot was.
“Moon” is almost suffocating in its oppressively slow pace, with Webber’s voice shuffling along, as if through mud, until it builds slightly only to return to a crawl near the end. It forces the listener to take note of every element of the song, from the hollow guitar plucking to the empty spaces in-between. It’s not a track you can dismiss lightly; it’s an uncomfortably intimate moment where each passing second is palpable. “Agatha” is a little too reminiscent of a failed showtune to have much of a positive effect on the overall album. Webber’s voice can easily carry the song, but sleepy keys and somber violins just end up sounding like Rose waded off the Titanic and got lost.
Fantasy is an album of imagery. Even as the lyrics explicitly mention rainfall and starry nights and city lights, the synths and keys act as a kind of pathetic fallacy: the weather mimicking the plot. Even listened to on the most paradisiacal of islands, this album would seem dark. Lightning Dust finally sound like what the scientific matter of something called “lightning dust” should sound like: a lull after a thunder clap, a sharp beam of light, something that sprinkles down after the heated rush, something organically beautiful. And in its beauty, it hurts.