best way to listen to Lightning Bolt is in a small room with
a low ceiling—say, someone’s parents’ basement, or an unattended
laundromat late at night, the kind of place where the bass-and-drums
duo’s reckless abandon has direct physical consequences and
you’re guaranteed to emerge with minor hearing impairment.
For over a decade, the Rhode Island School of Design grads
have been dispensing their high-octane noise-rock in precisely
this fashion, spewing out an album to approximate the live
experience every few years. In theory, it’s not the kind of
stuff that translates well to a pair of headphones or the
full-length album format, but Earthly Delights reasserts
the fact that Lightning Bolt have never been a reactionary
noise band hell-bent on simply flexing their testosterone
or freaking people out.
Track titles like “Colossus” and “Nation of Boar” should suggest
what kind of band Lightning Bolt are at their core. It’s riff-rock
of the chunkiest, fuzziest, and fastest variety, which is
pretty amazing, considering that every harmonic element comes
from one instrument, Brian Gibson’s bass. With loads of effects,
Gibson makes his high frequencies phase and squeal like a
guitar while chugging forward in odd, virtuoso death-metal
time signatures. All the while, drummer Brian Chippendale
shakes his kit like a caged animal without ever losing sight
of the song’s (yes, “song”) pocket. The (somewhat trite) animal
analogy doesn’t end there, though, as Chippendale furnishes
every song’s vocal parts through a telephone mic he’s built
into a neon mask he wears while drumming. The effect is mostly
a lot of fuzz, but given the music’s physical appeal, words
would probably be superfluous anyway.
Needless to say, single tracks of this stuff can be ex hausting,
never mind a full album of it. But it can also be exhilarating.
The band often cite the minimalist Philip Glass as an influence
alongside Japanese noisemakers the Boredoms, and the former’s
technique of patient textural assembly is certainly as evident
in Lightning Bolt’s music as the latter’s raw immediacy. While
never cerebral, the stuff is artful, which is probably why
Earthly Delights works as well through a stereo as
it would through a PA.
Solo Piano Tribute to the Beatles
the many fantastic features of the now-shuttered Chez Sophie
in Saratoga were the evenings when Cole Broderick commanded
the keyboard and offered his gentle, driving jazz survey of
the classic songbook, enhanced by many originals. Tin Pan
Alley’s master songsmiths provided the bulk of the best of
them, but there’s no question that a similar timelessness
informs the Lennon-McCartney catalog—and Broderick has collected
on a new CD his take on 11 Beatles classics.
Broderick comes out of a tradition defined by the piano stylings
of Oscar Peterson and George Shearing, who advanced the harmonic
language of their swinging forebears. Broderick smooths that
language into a more intimate, chamber-jazz voice, and it
chimes nicely with the wide range of Beatles songs he selected.
“Come Together” starts the CD with a lightly swinging feel,
bringing the familiar theme in over a series of block chords
that grow increasingly syncopated, with a subsequent chorus
touched with an appropriate color of R&B. Classic early
songs like “Can’t Buy Me Love,” “All My Loving” and “Love
Me Do,” for all the driving rhythm of the originals, sit surprisingly
well in these new contexts. Your ear is confounded at first
as you pick out the melodies, like spotting friends in a foreign
country, but, unlike the Muzak-ification that bleeds the life
out of so many rearrangements, Broderick’s approach is respectful
and (most importantly) fun.
Too respectful at times? Perhaps. The polite version of “A
Hard Day’s Night” celebrated opening chord made me chuckle,
but I was fascinated to hear how he gradually pushed the song’s
original harmonies into less-familiar but still-effective
territory. “Eleanor Rigby” is my favorite of the group because
of the sly intro and gentle treatment of the song, proving
that it doesn’t need the insistent huffing of the original.
“Eight Days a Week” already sounded like a jazz standard when
written, and on this recording that aspect of its personality
is deftly revealed.
Lane” finishes the brief album (it’s a mere 40 minutes) with
a such a pleasant, ragtime-y feel that you’ll listen to it
all over again— while awaiting its successor, promised for
next year. Every Beatles fan needs to hear (and probably own)
the newly remastered set of the originals, but I’m putting
this very satisfying tribute collection on the same shelf.
And look for Broderick at his new gig, playing weekends at
Dale Miller Restaurant in Albany.
You Give a Grouch a Guitar
the cookie and the muffin that tip off a gluttonous chain
of cravings in the famous mouse and moose of children’s literature,
the guitar bestowed unto this grouch opens a floodgate of
hopes and regrets that play out over the course of these 11
tracks. The cautionary title is a playful caveat offered before
the solo debut of Seth Tillinghast, better known as the drummer
for Beware! The Other Head of Science, and seems a modest
introduction to the latest (and perhaps most unlikely) purveyor
of what might now be officially regarded as “the B3nson sound.”
With help from the occasional touch of glockenspiel, accordion
and singing saw, Tillinghast’s delicate work on acoustic guitar
functions as a platform for his plaintive songs about porches,
passing time, and interrupted sleep. However, an envelope
might function as a better metaphor for the way the music’s
spare production seals each song—missives laced with memories,
confessions, and longing. The opening track, “For My Neighbors,”
sets the tone for all that will follow, Tillinghast’s voice
confident yet slightly fraught, like a more humble Colin Meloy.
Others have compared Littlefoot to the indie folk of Chicago’s
Owen and Portland’s Kind of Like Spitting, and, for those
who understand the references, this might be more apt than
the usual comparison of B3nson acts to Elephant 6 bands such
as Neutral Milk Hotel. But while Tillinghast can be somber
or lamenting on tracks like “Swingsets and Mountaintops” and
“Go to Sleep Now,” a hopeful faith in friendship and conviction
to “give more than you take away” holds the whole thing together.
When, on “The Numbers Divide Each Other,” he sings “We sang
for fun/we sang for free,” he might as well be speaking for
the whole B3nson troupe.