Noise-duo packages chaos well
With an enormous sound that is distinctly theirs, veteran noise-rock duo Lightning Bolt made up of drummer Brian Chippendale and bass guitarist Brian Gibson, not only reinforce the intensity and chaos that have long imbued their work, but they package it far more neatly into Sonic Citadel, their seventh full-length album. With a greater balance of all-consuming drums, guitar, and bass guitar, organized chaos is the first phrase that comes to mind—chaos, of course, in the best sense of the word.
Upon delving into the album, listeners undoubtedly encounter signature Lightning Bolt elements—rhythmic complexity and integrity, virtuosity across the board and mesmerizing patterns that simmer and progress, unknowingly taking the listener with them—though to a place only recently reached by Lightning Bolt. Sonic Citadel explores new territory for the pair. It displays an obvious departure from the unhinged, even overwhelming nature of their earlier albums and instead offers a more mature, polished take on the virtuosic chaos that embodies the duo’s aesthetic. In no way does this detract from their idiosyncratic charm; but rather, it broadens the album’s palatability to a wider audience via a subtle pop infiltration (albeit “pop” through the lens of said chaotic aesthetic) that longtime listeners may not have expected from Lightning Bolt.
In true Lightning Bolt fashion, Chippendale’s drumming boasts of solid precision that complements the steady yet virtuosic, growling bass by Gibson. Chippendale’s often improvised lyrics are almost always indecipherable through the distortion, but contribute well to the texture variation that is necessary in such a small selection of instruments. “Blow to the Head” stands as the assertive first track on the album, and acts almost as an outlet for expelling the raw, all-or-nothing vigor that is customary for the pair. That isn’t to say that the following tracks are lacking—quite the opposite in fact. From the start of “USA is A Psycho,” the second song on the album, listeners witness a new digestibility and structure that permeate the consequent tracks, all the while riding out the thrill of LB’s characteristic energy. This energy is unmatched in numbers such as “Big Banger” and “Van Halen 2049.” Having been active for 25 years, it’s clear that the duo has established their sound and aesthetic. As such, tracks like “All Insane” and “Don Henley in the Park,” which might take one aback with its surprisingly consonant tonality, offer a refreshing taste of new forays.
It’d be foolish to think that all will be pleased by the album. But Chippendale and Gibson are not fools, which is why their work is so captivating, even enchanting; they know their place and embrace it. Stationing themselves to “safely stay on the fringe,” as stated by Chippendale in an interview with The Wire UK, Lightning Bolt continues to do what Lightning Bolt does best, and unapologetically at that. The evolution that listeners see in the duo’s sound on Sonic Citadel is surely organic—it feels right. There exists a clear shift in the album’s character which may or may not sit well with all fans, but their output is still charmingly on the fringe. What is new is “the fringe” being made a more accessible place for audiences without sacrificing key LB elements.