I hate when musicians use the term “side-project”. It instantly lessens the worth of said project, presenting it as their baked potato to the main course. Lightning Dust, for example, is considered a side project for Amber Webber and Joshua Wells of Black Mountain. While Black Mountain creates grandiose jam metal that conjure up memories of Black Sabbath, Iron Butterfly, and Deep Purple, they rarely stray from the formula, keeping with the retro feel from start to finish.
The “side-project” Lightning Dust, on the other hand, provides the dynamic duo the opportunity to stray from the mold. Wells describes it as an opportunity to “…do something that is sparse and minimal, and with a lot of space around it.” The word “space” couldn’t be a better descriptor of Lightning Dust, taking their music into unknown galaxies, exploring soundscapes while always being grounded in the past. For example, the song “Never Seen”, although simple in structure, is sweltering with a thick atmosphere that is other-worldly.
The album artwork supports this sci-fi theme with an image of a living room that looks out upon an environment that resembles Lando Calrissian’s Cloud City. Yet, when looking closer upon the decor of this space hub, one is reminded of their grandmother’s home, with rocking chairs and antique lamps.
Webber’s singing matches this grandmother imagery, with her warbly voice sounding wise beyond its years. Like a weathered time traveller, she belts out passionate yarns over a background of organs and strings that meld sounds from across the span of time.
The album is organized in a way that resembles a time traveling fantasy, starting with the antiquated “Antonia Jane” moving through string backed opuses like “Dreamer”, stopping by Black Mountain’s familiar 70s sound for “Wondering What Everyone Knows”, and ending with “Take It Home”, a track that could fit within Radiohead’s “OK Computer” with its building, apocalyptic finish.
Throughout the album, the songs contain a sense of urgency, despite the lack of drums and the processional pace. It is this urgency that makes this album seem much more essential than anything the two have done as Black Mountain. But the more I think about it, I’d prefer a buttery sweet potato over a pork chop any day.