Odds are better than good that if you’ve clicked on this link, you already know whether or not you want this record. Lightning Bolt is not the sort of band likely to surprise their listeners with a sudden digression into acoustic balladry or chirpy synth-pop. For the uninitiated, Lightning Bolt consists of two guys named Brian, one who plays an electric bass through several effects pedals and an amp the size of a refrigerator, and one who plays drums as quickly as he possibly can while shouting stuff into a telephone receiver strapped to his face with what looks like a Day-Glo bondage mask. Together, they play incredibly complex riff-rock that exists somewhere between brash, lo-fi garage punk and deranged prog rock. They are very loud. They are not for everybody.
One may very well ask, even if you like Lightning Bolt, why you need this record. Their style is, in some ways, inherently limiting. Everything Lightning Bolt does will sound like other things Lightning Bolt has done: it will have crushingly huge bass riffs and manic drumming, with some distorted and incomprehensible yelling thrown in for good measure. My father has likened the band to having someone grab your lapels and scream in your face for 45 minutes; this may be, but there are few who yell better.
Earthly Delights, the band’s latest album, delivers everything anyone could reasonably want or need from Lightning Bolt, but offers enough variations on their trademark sound to distinguish it from previous efforts. “Colossus” starts with a slow, sludgy chord riff, and then develops gradually over the course of six minutes, covering more nuanced dynamic territory than the band has yet explored. This is in direct contrast to the penultimate track, “S.O.S.”, which, after an opening blast of noise, explodes into three minutes of delirious intensity as unrelenting as anything they’ve ever recorded. “Funny Farm” incorporates some surprisingly country-sounding licks, and “The Sublime Freak” marries a rolling rototom figure to a riff that is somehow both bouncy and massive. And while the psychedelic interludes “Flooded Chamber” and “Rain on Lake I’m Swimming In” don’t generate much interest on their own, they do serve to break up the sense of sameness that often sets in during the second half of a Lightning Bolt album.
All of this is relative, of course. To say that “Funny Farm” sounds like country music is to say that it sounds as much like country music as anything played by a bass-and-drums noise-rock duo is going to. And, in addition to the inventiveness of the tracks mentioned above, the band’s limitations and less compelling idiosyncrasies are on display as well. “Nation of Boar” and “Transmissionary” are terribly repetitive, and long enough that they become boring rather than hypnotic; at 12 minutes, “Transmissionary” takes up almost a quarter of the record with what amounts to variations on one riff. And while it is possible to ignore the distorted, caterwauling vocals in favor of the band’s instrumental prowess, it begins to grate over the course of 50 minutes.
These flaws do not significantly diminish the record’s successes, however, and should come as no surprise to anyone who’s ever heard a Lightning Bolt record before. Earthly Delights builds on the band’s last two successes, more concise than 2005’s Hypermagic Mountain and more stylistically diverse than 2003’s Wonderful Rainbow. But what Lightning Bolt excels at—what it’s always excelled at—is delivering bass riffs that sound like Zeus rolling down the mountainside in a Harley Davidson with Keith Moon flailing maniacally in the sidecar. What else could you need?
// Notes from the Road
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