he myth of Lightning Bolt hangs on its devastating, shamanistic live act. Concertgoers encircle the band, in ritual awe, like a crowded halo of asteroids orbiting a binary star: a bassist butchering his rig like a pink-slipped surgeon, and a drummer grinding his ragtag kit into cinders, while belting yawp after yawp through a tattered pillowcase luchador mask into his “throat mike,” a jury-rigged phone receiver run through a pre-amp. The experience, religious to every ticket-holder, outruns language.
The problem of Lightning Bolt, by extension, is recapturing this unhinged tumult in the studio, readied for your iPod’s earbuds and your mom’s car stereo, without losing the myth in translation. Luckily, with each new release, the band has tapered the gap between the live act and the studio artifact. Culling 57 minutes of Dionysian fury from three weeks—and two tracks—of Apollonian sweat, Lightning Bolt rushes forward on Hypermagic Mountain, their fourth full-length, in another stride toward the perfection of their prog-noise esthetic.
Rewind to 2003, year eight of the Rhode Island dialectic—Brian Chippendale’s jackhammer drumming braided into Brian Gibson’s whitewater bass—when Wonderful Rainbow cemented the Ruins and Boredoms comparisons, when the band rocketed into the higher echelons of the indie hierarchy, when noise began to slowly invade the once signal-heavy hipster cosmology. The more mature Hypermagic Mountain manages to one-up its junior, coupling an across-the-board tightness with better mixing. Where the vocals worked before as accomplices in abstraction, they’re now turned up, and clearer, thanks to the band’s new setup. The drums and bass, in the egalitarian polish of Dave Auchenbach’s knob-twiddling, are now equally prominent in the mix. The production’s richer than ever, with the once-submarine low end reigning alongside the mids and highs.
Gibson’s bass lines gallop from the get-go, chased by Chippendale’s percussion stampede, promising on the first track, “2 Morro Morro Land,” that Hypermagic Mountain will loom monolithically, maybe taller than Wonderful Rainbow. The opener’s raucous verve is overshadowed by the threatening storm of the next track, “Captain Caveman.” Here Chippendale, on cue, takes center stage, almost crooning over the stop-start convulsions, proggy fits of ricochet chord progressions, cribbed St. Anger riffs, and Gatling bass-drum pummeling.
Then the Brians flirt with the spectral. Recovering from a string of false starts, “Riffwraith” parades the duo’s talent for dense rhythms, smartly punctuating the riffs with Chippendale’s downcast squawks. “Megaghost” blasts past waves of mock-thunder and delayed baying into a labyrinth of warp-speed, rococo virtuosity. “Bizarro Bike” treads the same water as “Megaghost”—a nervous, eerie mixture of vocal delays and machine-gun drumming, a prog poltergeist haunting the higher register.
The latter half of the album flaunts the outsize scale of the prog-noise esthetic. Not surprisingly, “Magic Mountain”—doing triple work as a Bildungsroman, theme park, and quasi-title track—is an epic exercise in ascent, a cloud-puncturing sierra of tension leveled by Gibson’s four-string enfilade. When the band slows down to gather the rosebuds, they churn out masterpieces. The longest songs, “Dead Cowboy” and “Mohawkwindmill” are among the album’s most intense. The former asks a question: how would the Boredoms maneuver a broadside against George W.? The Brians answer: drums at ramming-speed cadence, major-chord cannon fire, hooks piercing the choppy sludge. The latter drifts the same seas, pitching in the magma, only motored through by Chippendale’s Hella-esque fury. We hear in these songs a roll call of the esthetic’s hallmarks: the boundless zigzagging marches into the inferno; the volcanic, fatalistic climaxes; the minimalist glue, with lonely phrases pounded into submission, the angle of attack shifting almost invisibly; the arabesque prog flourishes; the scrambled, overdriven Krautrock rhythms.
Proving the album’s quality, even its lesser tracks stand above other band’s best work. For instance, “Infinity Farm” feels like Brian Eno soundtracking a trip to the pound. And Gibson quotes Bad Brains on the doggedly rhythmic “Birdy.” Hardly weak, and as if to leave its thirsty audiences only half-sated—the improv album, Frenzy, is due out next year—“No Rest for the Obsessed” abruptly closes the album halfway into a more-metal-than-thou crescendo, abandoning us waist-deep in sludge. It’s salt in the wound, to be sure, but all Lightning Bolt fans are avowed masochists.
The album sweeps away lingering doubts that Lightning Bolt is a highbrow gimmick, a hipster Frankenstein stitched together by alt-weeklies. The Brians have found a unique voice that’s wholly theirs and, with fine-tuning behind the scenes, they can only hone it. The compressed, cleaned-up ferocity of Hypermagic Mountain is a leap of refinement in every way, a sign that the band, while lushly unripe, is ripening gracefully.
STYLUSMAGAZINE.COM’S ALBUM OF THE WEEK: OCTOBER 24 – OCTOBER 30, 2005
Reviewed by: Roque Strew
Reviewed on: 2005-10-24
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