I was a fan of the first two albums made by Lightning Dust, the duo of Amber Webber and Josh Wells, which started out as a Black Mountain side project, then took on a life of its own. It’s the parched, brittle voice of Webber that’s always sucked me in, reminding me a bit of Cat Power’s Chan Marshall with a more constricted clenched-jaw delivery. On the duo’s first two albums the instrumental backing was restrained—just spare piano or guitar and percussion (sometimes Suicide-grade drum machines). In a sense the heavy synths and drum programming on their recently released third album, Fantasy (Jagjaguwar), shouldn’t have come as surprise, but after a dozen listens it’s still confusing me a bit.
Webber has definitely become a more expressive, confident singer, but when she flirts with contemporary R&B here and there, I’m not sure it works. The song “Moon” opens with just acoustic guitar arpeggios, framing Webber’s dusky voice perfectly, but then the synthesizers roll in, lending an air of grandeur that feels at odds with her singing and the scale of the song. The robotic electro-disco groove of “Loaded Gun,” which you can check out below, illustrates the problems here—by pairing Webber’s modest but attractive voice with high-energy beats and pulsing synth tones, it makes her narcotic delivery sound exaggeratedly sleepy and disinterested, whereas on previous efforts it sounded intimate and vulnerable. I’m not ready to abandon Lightning Dust—I like Webber’s voice too much to quit just yet—but it proves to me that this recent indie-rock infatuation with 80s and early 90s synth-pop production has made a lot of musicians tone deaf.