It is difficult not to see Oblivion Hunter , and indeed much of Lightning Bolt’s recorded output, as an advertisement for their live performances. The hyperkinetic, feral intensity of these tracks inevitably causes the listener to daydream about watching this stuff performed live in some dank basement, headbanging frantically while these two talented young men pound away at their instruments. I am sorry to report that I have yet to experience that particular pleasure. One thing or another has thus far prevented me from seeing Lightning Bolt perform in the flesh. Their very enjoyable DVD The Power of Salad gives the viewer some idea of the sweaty, riotous vibe achieved at their shows, but a DVD or YouTube clip is, of course, hardly a substitute for the real thing.
On Oblivion Hunter Brian Chippendale and Brian Gibson bash and squall; feedback bursts and pops all over the place. These tracks make you feel like you have somehow had too much to drink and gotten talked into wrestling an alligator, and there you are, writhing around on the floor with this scaly beast while your friends stand around cheering and waving fistfuls of money. Although undoubtedly energetic and fun, that voice keeps speaking-up in my mind: “I’ll bet this stuff is really something live.” As recorded music meant to speak for itself, as specific compositions frozen in time, these tracks don’t really stand up. They have pep and vigor, and they make you want to spill coffee on yourself, but there is not much that stays with you once each track is over. Although unquestionably boisterous, these tracks lack subtlety and nuance. The atmosphere achieved, while invigorating, is monotone.
These tracks are apparently old ones recorded in a fairly off-the-cuff manner, and that makes a lot of sense when you listen to this record. The production is raw and fuzzy in a way that adds to the ever-present sense of live-ness and I assume that these tracks were recorded live, although the details of the recording session have not been divulged to me. But raw production aside, Lightning Bolt’s music, even on their slightly more polished releases, has a tendency to convey energy, excitement, and even joy, but they inevitably make the listener feel as if they are experiencing a third-rate version of what these two dudes sound like in the flesh. In a certain sense, Lightning Bolt sound something like the Jesus Lizard boiled down to their most ferocious elements, which sounds cool on paper, but the reality is somewhat disappointing. The Jesus Lizard can rock like nobody’s business, but they are also really great songwriters. On albums like Goat and Liar , the Jesus Lizard make you want to strut around your house pin-wheeling your arms and scaring the dog, but they also have many shades of gray and moments of calm in their records; they are more than just frenetic energy.
Lightning Bolt often seem as if they are just frenetic energy, which is fun for a little while, but it gets boring pretty soon. Perhaps the most interesting track on Oblivion Hunter is the extended jam session at the end “World Wobbly Wide”. Here we see Brian and Brian venturing into more psychedelic territory; in spite of the much longer duration of “World Wobbly Wide” I found myself being drawn back to it more often than the earlier, shorter, less multifaceted tracks. Lightning Bolt are an impressive outfit. There will always be a place in my heart for deranged, head-bludgeoning noise rock of this kind. However, the most appropriate place for this sort of thing is probably the above mentioned dank basement filled with sweaty, anxious teenagers ready to tear the place apart. I will make sure to be there the next time these guys are in town guys.