‘Lightning’ in a Mottle
Reviewing noise rock duo Lightning Bolt’s latest requires a nuanced kind of scrutiny. After all, when most all tracks in the band’s canon are loosely integrated smatterings of abstract noise, it all comes down to whether the most recent batch of noise is as good as the last batch. In Oblivion Hunter, directly I can tell you no. When you make a game of being unremittingly loud, atonal and indecipherable, as Lightning Bolt comports itself through much of this record, all other shades and dynamics necessary to a feeling of variety are burned up in a manure-stoked fire of “loud, mean and fast.”
In Oblivion‘s opening number, “King Candy,” drummer/vocalist Brian Chippendale’s trashcan-lid drumming thrums like a dune buggy into the sandy unknown, while Brian Gibson’s bass guitar assaults us like the scenes of violence shown Malcolm McDowell in A Clockwork Orange. “Baron Wasteland” deepens the shock and awe with a carpet bombing of sweaty-metallic beats and square wave guitar exchanges suggestive of Vietnam in space. The song—or series of sounds occurring within a span of time—gives way to a bout of various pneumatic suction noises and shamanic glossolalia, not unlike a dental appointment along the Amazon. Just put me under, Doc.
“Oblivion Balloon” sputters with a tilt-a-whirl surf guitar and more of Chippendale’s grating, walkie-talkie hiccups. If you’ve ever wondered what Dick Dale would sound like playing a gig in the ninth circle of Hell, look no further. Things pick up towards the middle, and it’d be wrong to say the album is without its charms. “Fly Fucker Fly” is easily Oblivion Hunter‘s most oriented and cohesive effort, transmuting the first half’s ADD spazathon into something with an actual beginning, middle and end. Its loping fuzz riff and Caribbean beats make a great foil for Chippendale’s still-unintelligible shouts. “The Soft Spoken Spectre,” too, though short, proves a comparatively sane mock-Turkic palate cleanser. Droning rhythm strings pluck away as a vaguely Eastern melody coasts along unencumbered, providing a sense of respite before succumbing to the clinch of “Salamander,” a spacey warts-and-all number coiling with The Surfaris’ “Wipe Out” tempo and a loopy, frenetic guitar line. Later falling into another key, it tears and unravels like the tank treads of an ebbing war machine.
Finally Gibson and Chippendale deliver their punishing 13-minute coda in “World Wobbly Wide,” a racing-heart head trip intent on the curious goal of an anarchic, demonized outro without end. Oh, Lightning Bolt. All told, many shades exist along the band of “experimental.” There are those who tease and pull on the rudiments of music to exciting and unexpected effect, others who for curiosity or rashness tear at the very fringes of the medium, and then there’s Lightning Bolt and Oblivion Hunter, where the only “experiment” actually lies in torturing and killing music itself, pulling off its legs like a twitching insect, and grinning over its lifeless form with the broken-home smile of a future serial killer. If this is the narrow shard of “experimental” you had in mind, by all means!