lack Mountain’s 2005 self-titled, kinda-out-of-nowhere monolith was a relatively new genre-mash: a Krautrock-inspired take on 1960s hard-psych. What saved it from music nerd hell, however, was the sense that it was recorded by a bunch of well-intentioned stoners. Witness how during “Modern Music” the troupe kept goofily counting off numbers and rhyming, or how “Druganaut” was named “Druganaut.” Shit-grins and playful sex existed on a plane different from the music, but they existed.
Black Mountaineers Amber Webber and Joshua Wells, collectively Lightning Dust, rather unfortunately fail to transcend their gloomy folk-rock on their Jagjaguwar debut. And to some extent, that’s how these indie rock side projects go, but it’s a bit disappointing given Black Mountain’s ragtag, communal aesthetic—how they attacked hard rock like the Stones did American blues, all headlong and sloppy.
Lightning Dust can rarely be heard attacking anything on their self-titled debut, resorting instead to dark red balladry with haunted chords smothering Webber’s campfire siren. Webber is blessed with legit chops and an ear for the dramatic, and she sounded tantalizing and dangerous nestled against Stephen McBean’s over-sexed whine; Lightning Dust doesn’t afford her the same support structure, and she will be thusly doomed with comparisons to She-to-Whom-All-Young-Female-Folk-Singers-Must-Be-Compared, Cat Power. It’s apt, though: Webber shares Ms. Power’s dour tremble, as on “Castles and Caves,” when Webber’s timbre shuffles between vulnerable and very vulnerable. Set closer “Days Go By” singularly nails it as Webber treads the blocky chords, dodges blues-y electric chirps, and contributes her more-tunnel-at-the-end-of-the-tunnel vagaries: “Days go by so slow / But nights don’t seem to last as long.” A little bit of pedal steel, let your hair down, close curtain.
Lightning Dust is a downer lyrically and melodically, and unfortunately it’s most fulfilling when the arrangements chase Webber all the way south into funeral drone-territory. The organs that pollute the tape on “When You Go,” “Breathe,” and “Take Me Back” go doom for doom with Webber, and the album takes on a sort of fatalistic trance. It’s a fine, depressing cocktail, but Lightning Dust can’t keep it up for an entire album, and if they learn how, they still shouldn’t.
“Wind Me Up” stands as the exception to Lightning Dust’s frowning: A brief, jaunty acoustic crackle, it’s a fitting soundtrack to grainy footage of little kids splashing in an inflatable pool. The exception that proves the rule, perhaps, but Lightning Dust would do well to stir more of “Wind Me Up”’s whimsy. “Take Me Back”’s deep ululating Hammond shows up moments later to sop up any of that playfulness, and Lightning Dust returns to the comfortable cover of churning tempo and frightened keys, like a humid summer day without any of the accompanying exposed flesh.