Lightning Dust, ‘Fantasy’ – Album Review
Lightning Dust’s third album, ‘Fantasy,’ sees the Black Mountain side project exploring spare synth-pop terrain, perilous ground for any band in 2013, due to the abundance and quality of peers. This is a particularly strange decision for the duo, considering the dark-folk niche they explored on their previous album, ‘Infinite Light,’ was far more original. According to the group, the only rule of the project is minimalism, which makes sense, considering the weightiness of Black Mountain’s psych-metal, for which Amber Webber sings and Joshua Wells plays drums.
‘Fantasy’ lives and dies on the strength of the pair’s songwriting, primarily Webber’s melodies. With “minimal” synth backing and mid-temp electronic beats, the instrumental side of ‘Fantasy’ plays like a stalemate. Whereas the album is mostly tasteful and well produced, there are no sonically impressive or exciting moments. The best part of the songs are the progressions many take, with ‘Mirror’ starting stale and retro but proceeding to add layers, building an uncharacteristically complex arrangements of sound and following a clever road where the beginning of the song becomes moot. But that positive turn gets voided on the next song, ‘Moon,’ which features an acoustic guitar for the majority of the track and threatens to ruin the cohesion of ‘Fantasy.’
But it’s Webber’s nuanced, vibrato delivery that is the takeaway from ‘Fantasy.’ This is not news, as her trademark wail is a major part of Black Mountain’s appeal. But on quieter track with Lightning Dust, her vocal power is realized, and she delivers a handful of commendable moments to bookend the album. On the first and last two tracks on the album, all home-run heartbreakers, we hear Webber’s ability to go high and low with equally effective results, recalling Tori Amos or Kate Bush.
But despite all the good, the lack of meat in the middle of the album keeps ‘Fantasy’ from feeling significant in the way Lighting Dust did on their last album or Black Mountain has for years. In an over-saturated market for moody, gothy, at times beautiful synth-pop, ‘Fantasy’ feels like a fourth-place horse: good enough to compete, but you’d be better off picking another pony.