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Pretty Lightning

There Are Witches in the Woods

(Fonal; US: 27 Mar 2012; UK: 26 Mar 2012)

I’m guessing that the last Pretty Lightning band meeting, held in their native Germany, went something like this:


Christian Berghoff (guitar, vocals): Achtung, baby! Our new record, There Are Witches in the Woods, rocks!


Sebastian Haas (drums): Ja! Cool title, too. But do you think people will like it?


Christian Berghoff: Why wouldn’t they? You just said it rocks!


Sebastian Haas: Yeah, but …


Christian Berghoff: What?


Sebastian Haas: People here in Germany like us a lot, but won’t the Americans think we sound an awful lot like The Black Keys?


Christian Berghoff (slaps forehead): Mein gott! I can’t believe you’re saying this! You sound just like every lazy-ass music journo who needs a hook for his review of the latest up-and-coming guitar/drums duo.


Sebastian Haas: I know. But come on, some of our songs do totally sound like TBK’s Chulahoma. Like “We’d Rather Be Some Criminals” and “Old Lord” with that patented watery reverb guitar tone, not to mention your vocals mixed way down in a bed of wavery distortion.


Christian Berghoff: Yeah, but Chulahoma was a great record. And my voice doesn’t sound half as world-weary as Dan Auerbach’s. It’s more dreamy, like.


Sebastian Haas: Oh, I know. But then there’s “Blazing Bright” and “Down With the Moon,” which are both bluesy, riff-heavy stompers that pound out their rhythms with that grind-it-out sort of approach that sounds, well … a little familiar.


Christian Berghoff (leaning forward, intent): Listen to me. We are not a Black Keys ripoff band, okay?


Sebastian Haas: Oh … okay. I mean, ja, I totally get that.


Christian Berghoff (cleaning spectacles thoughtfully): I’ll grant you, the start of the album does tread in some mightily familiar blues-rock territory, with plenty of fuzz and riffage and basic thumping percussion. The reverb, the murky mixing, the layered vocals, I’ll give you all that. But where we really come into our own is four or five songs in. “Hail Hail” is spaced out and dreamy and psychedelic in a way that’s uniquely our own, don’t you think?


Sebastian Haas: Still pretty bluesy though.


Christian Berghoff: I admit it, I’m enamored of the blues. But “Hail Hail” works its little hypnotic number on the listener, dragging them down into the swamp – or maybe the Black Forest – in a way that Auerbach and Carney haven’t done in years, if they ever did.


Sebastian Haas: I see what you mean. It’s sort of like, we’re the band that they might have evolved into, if they hadn’t decided to act out their lame neo-soul fantasies and sing in falsetto half the time.


Christian Berghoff: Exactly! (Runs fingers through his beard.) “Hail Hail” has as much in common with tripped out Jefferson Airplane jams as with garage band stomp. And it doesn’t end there. “See No Evil” sounds like an opium-laced gospel tune, if such a thing is possible, while “Brother Gold Miner” wraps twined guitar licks around each other in counterpoint to my vocal melody, which acts almost like another guitar line.


Sebastian Haas: Wow, you were doing all that? Where was I?


Christian Berghoff: You were hitting things really hard with sticks. Don’t feel bad about missing out on the details. And listen, I haven’t even gotten to the best part, which is how we close out the album – with some of our best tunes.


Sebastian Haas: “The Sound of Thunder” is epic. Your spaced-out, layered vocals make a hazy bed of sound that I just want to lie down in. I hope that doesn’t sound weird.


Christian Berghoff: I’ve heard you say weirder. But you’re right, it’s a great song, and at five and a half minutes, it can really stretch out and set up the end of the record. “An Old Wives’ Tale” takes the listener back to dreamy-drone territory, but with a twist in the form of spooky guitar howling, and “The Wizard” knocks it right out of the park with overdriven guitar and the odd bit of keyboard.


Sebastian Haas: You’re right! You know, this really is a pretty great record. Pretty Lightning uber alles!


Christian Berghoff: It’s a little disturbing when you put that way, nein? But I’m glad you like the record. You know, it would be kind of weird if you didn’t.

Rating:

DAVID MAINE is a novelist and essayist. His books include The Preservationist (2004), Fallen (2005), The Book of Samson (2006), Monster, 1959 (2008) and An Age of Madness (2012). He has contributed to The Washington Post, Publishers Weekly, Esquire.com and NPR.com, among other outlets. He is a lifelong music obsessive whose interests range from rock to folk to hip-hop to international to blues. He currently lives in western Massachusetts, where he works in human services. Catch up with his blog, The Party Never Stops, at davidmaine.blogspot.com, or become his buddy on Facebook (or Twitter or Google+ or whatever you prefer) to keep up with reviews and other developments.


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