Published Jun 27, 2013As members of Black Mountain, Amber Webber and Joshua Wells have become well-versed in hard rock riffage and towering psychedelia, while their work as Lightening Dust has found them venturing into hushed folk and synthesized solemnity. When recording the newly released Fantasy, however, the duo strove to attach a new adjective to their music: fun.
"We wanted to make music that was as fun as possible to tour," singer Webber says while she and Wells enjoy the view from the apex of Vancouver's Queen Elizabeth Park. "Who knows, in five years I might not have the energy for it. I'll always have my acoustic guitar and I can always sing mellow songs, but right now I'm feeling the energy for pop music, so why not?"
Lightning Dust have flirted with electronic pop before, most notably on their 2009 album Infinite Light and its standout track, "Never Seen." On Fantasy, the pair dive headlong into this style, eschewing acoustic instruments and largely limiting themselves to a palette of mechanical beats and twinkly synths.
"I wanted to take a song that Amber had written for acoustic guitar and voice," keyboardist Wells recalls, "and then arrange it for an entirely synthetic orchestra and see if that worked. I got this thing I could sequence stuff with — an old MPC — and I just started messing around with it." Laughing, he adds, "And I thought it was pretty good."
This experiment began with "Never Again," a cinematically soaring 2011 single (released as a split seven-inch with fellow Vancouverites Hard Drugs) that re-emerges here as the final track. From there, they continued writing and recording in their Balloon Factory basement studio, producing swooning synthscapes like "Diamond" and "Fire Me Up." The latter tune is anchored by a burbling arpeggiator that resembles Grimes' "Oblivion" but with an extra splash of teen-movie sweetness.
Perhaps the most ear-grabbing cut of all is "Loaded Gun," a skulking disco incantation that evokes the iciness of the Knife. This tune began with a beat by Wells, with Webber adding on melodies and lyrics after the fact. "It's probably as dance-y as we'll ever get," the singer reflects. "I wanted to do that for once in my life, because I don't know if I'll ever do it again, but I just want to have a dance-y song. I like to dance."
With their synth-pop experiment having been successfully completed, Lightning Dust are now focused on turning their new sound into a live show; they also have some remixes in the works. Beyond that, the future — for both Black Mountain and Lightning Dust — has yet to be determined.
But even if Fantasy's sense of fun is eventually replaced by a return to the gloominess that has characterized much of their work to date, Wells promises that their good moods will remain unblemished. "Our music may often come off pretty sombre, but really I don't think we've ever been that precious about it," he says. "Whether or not you're utilizing joy or expressing joy, there's always a joy in just doing it. Even if you're getting rid of a bad feeling, it feels like joy on the way out."