The centrepiece of the recent All Tomorrow’s Parties documentary is a clip from a Lightning Bolt set at the festival back in 2006. The band, true to form, is set up on the floor of the venue and the crowd is jostling around Brian Chippendale‘s drumkit in a claustrophobic huddle of beards and sweaty t-shirts. In between songs, a greasy fan taps Brian on the shoulder, leaning over the floor tom to get his attention. “Ten, three!” he shouts, holding up his greasy fingers to illustrate. “Ten plus three! Thirteen!” “Ten plus three?” replies Brian, his voice heavily distorted by his skimask and ball-gag mike setup.
“Ten plus three is thirteeeeeen!” hollers the fan deliriously
“Ten plus three is thirteen, right.” says Brian. Then, after a short pause to build anticipation, the band spring into the glorious racket that is “13 Monsters”. The crowd explodes into a mass of flailing limbs and teeth and greasy hair, threatening to swarm all over the duo. It’s amazing no-one loses an eye to a stray drumstick.
This short clip, for me, epitomises what Lightning Bolt are about. They are immediate, intense, confrontational, and yet strangely accessible. Given that they play what might be described as godawful noise, they attract a surprisingly large and varied fan base. There’s something about this godawful noise that makes you think you can just reach over the drumkit and tap it on the shoulder.
Nowhere is this accessibility more apparent than on Lightning Bolt’s new offering, Earthly Delights. While still bringing enough spasmodic rattle and grinding bass riffs to make speakers bleed all over the globe, the album has far a more melodic, song-based feel than its predecessors. The abundance of sub-5-minute tracks and relative lack of freeform fucking around at least gives the appearance of structure (“was that a chorus? Did you hear that? I think that was a chorus!”), and makes one suspect that the Brians have been dabbling in songwriting. Which is not to say the duo have mellowed at all – I think it’s fair to say Burt Bacharach‘s job is safe for the time being.
Earthly Delights also brings a nod to rock’s history, with the additional structure making the duo’s influences more apparent. If Hypermagic Mountain flirted coyly with progressive rock, then Earthly Delights takes that much-maligned genre home to meet its mother. Other elements rear their head from time to time, of course – the stoner rock groove of “Colossus”, the straight-up hardcore drive of “S.O.S.”, even a truly WTF-worthy country riff on “Funny Farm” – but prog is the overarching motif of the record. Earthly Delights is shot through with echoing spacey moments that wouldn’t sound out of place on the latest Mastodon album. This sordid dalliance reaches its height in the 12-minute closing track “Transmissionary”, a soaring, majestic slab of uncouth psych-scented progressive noise that elbows its way into the room, the sound of Lightning Bolt noisily devouring the infant child of Slayer and Hawkwind.
Lightning Bolt are already credited with introducing the hipster kids to noise, so there’s an outside chance Earthly Delights will see the asymmetrical haircut brigade sporting Yes t-shirts before the year is through. Good luck to them, I say.