Lighting Bolt are a tough one to review. They have always been off in a world of their own. It’s a world of sky-riding, wonderful rainbows and hyper-magic mountains. A world where cover artwork is rendered lovingly, and innocently, to brilliantly detailed effect. Seriously, their sleeve art is clearly the portfolio of someone who has the hand of a savant and the mind of a brilliant six year old. Their albums are just as vivid and innocent: two-instruments (bass and drum, though you’d never believe it, listening to them) battle and collude to confuse and edify their listeners. It’s like nothing else. Only now, in bands like That Fucking Tank, is anyone approaching their laser-like, chaotic minimalism. That’s pretty much the definition of ‘original’.
But how original can it remain, a decade on? Two musicians, playing complex rock music, can only go so far, right? Wonderful Rainbow (2003) was arguably a pinnacle for the duo; vibrant aural colours splashed all over the place, crashed like waves against psychedelic cliffs. A tag-team beatdown, blows raining down on you as the pair seemed to alchemise constant fills and virtuosity into a noise bordering on pop music. The epic Hypermagic Mountain (2005) bordered on prog: an hour spent in their world of ‘Mega Ghosts’ and ‘Infinity Farms’ bordered on too much. Songs up to ten minutes long led to the sonic equivalent of barfing after consuming too much sugar and spinning around.
Four years later, the philosophical change is clear. The simple exuberance of old has been replaced by a more fuzzed, Gang Gang Dance/Black Dice aesthetic. The vocals, in as much as they were ever present, are still here. They sound as much like a giant wasp screaming through a megaphone into a tin bucket filled with tracing paper as they ever did: akin to Zen Guerilla covering Kyuss‘ ‘Mondo Generator’. They fit the new lo-fi sound very well, even if the lazy swagger introducing ‘Colossus’ makes you think Buzz Osborne is about to sneer his way into the mix, such is its recollection of early 90s Melvins slacker-chic. ‘Flooded Chamber’ is a theoretical step in the right direction, too, as the LB bring chaos and constantly-changing sounds to the fore. Problem is, it’s a bit too random, like the finely tuned, controlled chaos that defined their earlier work has now bubbled over. It’d be exciting if it wasn’t so desensitising.
Conservative as this sounds, and as much as we like bands to push themselves as far as possible, the best material on here is actually that which sounds most like their back catalogue. ‘Funny Farm’ is a perfect case in point: straight-up punk rock pummelling, mixed with that perfect combination of addictive hooks and technical ecstasy. It’s such a frazzled blast of high energy sound-spikes that you find yourself going all Super Hans as you proclaim the crack to be rather moreish. Change works superbly on ‘Rain on the Lake I’m Swimming In’, a blissful vignette that articulates perfectly the cartoon idyll in which the pair seem to reside. ‘S.O.S.’, too, is a new side of Lightning Bolt that work really well. Where usually their heaviness and intensity are filled with fun and colour, the directness and effected shouting suggest, if not actual aggression, something in that area. It’s a thrilling change of mood.
And that’s what’s perhaps most interesting about Earthly Delights. Where most bands still front-load their records (on account of the fear that you’ll hit Shuffle as soon as something displeases, like a bedsit record company exec), the ‘Bolt seem to ease you in before really testing you. The first few songs are like a recap of where they’ve been, combined with an abstract of what they intend to do for us over the next 50 minutes. It’s only once we’re settled in that the fireworks fly. It’s a bit of a shame that only half the album is both novel and exciting (by the ridiculous standards they have set for themselves), but this is objectively one hell of a journey. If you’re new to the band, there may be no better place to begin than here.