If at times on their first two albums, Lightning Dust (2007) and Infinite Light (2009), Amber Webber and Joshua Wells allowed the distinctiveness of their sound to predominate over their original and rarely less than interesting musical ideas, here on Fantasy they demonstrate a more assured set of songwriting skills. The tentative nature of some tracks from the earlier albums (‘Days Go By’ hesitantly concluding Lightning Dust, for example) here gives way to more defined structural considerations, although anyone looking for 2013 versions of the sub-Sabbathisms from Black Mountain’s In the Future will look in vain here. The increased confidence the duo have as an intrinsic unit, rather than as simply an offshoot of Black Mountain, is clear on Fantasy.
At times, on the earlier Lightning Dust records, the over-use of vibrato verged on the lachrymose, in ‘When You Go’ from 2007 and ‘Dreamer’ (2009), reminding one of David Surkamp from 1970s Missouri band Pavlov’s Dog. Now, though, there is an impressive range of sounds. Particularly effective, for instance, is the echo of the Fender Rhodes piano sound Jack White created on ‘Missing Pieces’ on his Blunderbuss album. Intelligent and economical. All the more so for not drifting into the over-emphatic – an occasional worry on Lightning Dust.
Now, the sentiments remain just this side of earnest (‘Diamond’: “You hollowed me out into a love-lost frame”) with only an occasional straying into the overtly pleading (‘Reckless and Wild’: “So kiss me, you’re gone, and I will miss you like when our love first began”) that suggests Amber Webber has not yet fully put away childish things. Indeed, the good disparate ideas that didn’t always cohere in earlier songs that seemed worthy of further development (‘The Times’ on Infinite Light, for example) are here more effectively integrally fashioned in the style of the very best of those earlier compositions.
The thoughtful restraint of ‘Moon’ is thoroughly convincing, with the stripped-down arrangement carrying credibility, and conveying a sense that Lightning Dust recognise that keening vocals used sparingly produce disproportionately positive effects. At its best, Fantasy shows that Webber and Wells know well how to imply rather than state. This allows the forceful rhythms of ‘Loaded Gun’ to be particularly successful. The staccato “Fell drunk, loaded gun, swing it up high” is especially arresting. When the pair display their talents in apparently unselfconscious ways, such as on the lovely ‘In the City Tonight’, lines like “I stood by your bloody knife; / what ran through you, I felt it too” are genuinely affecting rather than gauche. They show they have an awareness of cadence as well as of rhythm on the spectral ‘Agatha’, allowing the song to rise above the everyday and the derivative.
Lightning Dust’s giving close attention to details of composition, resisting the temptation to stretch material or ideas too thinly, has brought about an album of ambition and maturity, of subtle shades of darkness and light, of promise fulfilled.