All you need to know about Lightning Bolt can be learned in a five second clip from the Peter Glantz directed documentary The Power of Salad. Brian Chippendale, teetering on top of his sky-scraper high amp, makes a daring leap from atop and lands squarely in his seat in front of the drum set starting off the song, in time mind you, before blasting through another blitzberg of drum n’ bass hedonism. This display of pure kinetic energy and reckless disregard of health and well being can both describe a typical Lightning Bolt show and act as an introduction to the Providence, RI duo’s sixth studio album, Earthly Delights.
This far into their career, with a primitivist (and some say limited) set up, and with an incredibly well received preceding album, it would make sense for Lightning Bolt to make a sudden departure or drastically change up their sound. While most of the internet buzz greets Earthly Delights as another lock-stock step in Lightning Bolt’s discography, they make passing mention to some HUGE stylistic shifts that make Earthly Delights such a different and exciting album to listen to. Massive changes happen on the tiniest hinges in noise rock and so when someone as talented and universally acclaimed as Lightning Bolt start switching their style up, it is best we take notice.
Wonderful Rainbow has been hailed as the duo’s most accessible album to date. I am making the case that Earthly Delights takes that claim and raises it a hyperbolic “their most accessible and diverse” laurel. Brian Chippendale still wails at his drum set like an abusive octopus and Brian Gibson still plays every position known to bassist-kind, providing rhythm as well as leads so virtuoso listeners will swear they recruited a guitarist. Lightning Bolt still sounds like Lightning Bolt, but with a few (major) stylistic changes.
The album opener “Sound Guardians” kicks off with a typical Lightning Bolt burst of pure unadulterated noise as Chippendale’s martial drumming and Gibson’s distortion pedals channel a virtual tsunami of noise. Just about a minute into the track when things are about to get their most frenetic, Gibson unleashes a guttural squall of early nineties grunge-inspired chugga-chugga power chords before Chippendale begins another drum attack. These are moments when you realize that something you have heard on every Lightning Bolt album can still stop you dead in your tracks.
The departures are just as exciting. “Colossus” begins with an Earth-like minimalist bass line that builds slowly until it reaches a stoner-rock version of a Gregorian chant. A monolithic plainsong of noise worshipping beat sacrifice. In fact the Chippendale madness that we know and love doesn’t get into full swing until much after the halfway mark. “Sublime Freak” has a downright Surf Rock bass line, like Dick Dale on acid. “Funny Farm” features a ho-down bridge that is as equally catchy as it is brow furrowing. Country music? On a Lightning Bolt album? This is 2009 folks. Anything is possible.
The penultimate “S.O.S” is their most reckless, totally outta control burner on the album; just under four minutes of insanely talented thrash. “Transmissionary” rivals “Nation of Boar” as their most drone-tastic, repetitive opus on the album. Lasting over twelve minutes, “Transimissionary” is centered around a single looped riff of Gibson’s strangled bass. A powerfully muscular move not unlike Birchville Cat Motel’s legendary “Drawn Towards the Chanting Hordes” which takes one Iron Maiden chord and stretches into 30 minutes of ethereal bliss.
Brian Chippendale rivals Zach Hill as the most inventive and talented drummer working in music today, but to tell you the truth, Brian Gibson shines as the true star on this album. It is his insanely varied bass attacks on several different genres, put through a blender and recontextualized through his distortion pedals and alternate tunings, that gives this album the accessible and diverse feel that it has. His lines are catchier than they have ever been, faster and more jaw dropping. Gibson does things that the bass guitar was never supposed to do. Easily one of the most exciting and rewarding releases of 2009.