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Basement Tapes

By Josh Potter

Lightning Bolt

Earthly Delights

The 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.

Cole Broderick

A Solo Piano Tribute to the Beatles

Among 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.

“Penny 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.

—B.A. Nilsson

Littlefoot

If You Give a Grouch a Guitar

Like 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.

—Josh Potter


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