Lightning Dust is the side project of Black Mountain’s Amber Webber and Joshua Wells, an outlet for the Vancouver duo’s softer, sweeter, less stoner-rock-y tendencies. On their third album Fantasy, the band ditches the psych-folk of 2009’s Infinite Light for a synth-driven take on dream-pop whose sparse arrangements affirm Lightning Dust’s commitment to moody minimalism. Built mainly on Wells’s ancient sampler/sequencer, the result is a dark and lovely reverie that’s self-consciously retro yet almost mystical in tone—like if the Drive soundtrack were made in a haunted forest. Thanks largely to Webber’s dusky-soulful vocals and gothic-lit-inspired fetish for nature imagery, Fantasy molds its robotic synth into melody-charged pop songs unembarrassed by their own hopeless romanticism.
Opening with the lead single “Diamond,” Fantasy plunges right into dreamy despair and sets its droning synth bassline to Webber’s tale of slowly unfolding heartbreak (“Whisper to me that you’ve had enough/Apologize that you’re not in love”). Lightning Dust sustains that midtempo melancholy on “Reckless and Wild” (a sweeping elegy to lost innocence, complete with lyrics about cascading hills and romantic resignation), while “Mirror” finds Webber turning defiant (“Free my soul, when we break down walls/While fighting off machines/We’re climbing through windows, we’ll take down them all”) as she sings against shimmering rhythms suited to a strobe-lit carnival funhouse. Later on Fantasy, “Loaded Gun” twists the mood into something sinister, fusing fatalistic lyrics (“We can both climb high or fry dead in the sand”) with a dirgy, throbbing beat. And with “Moon,” Lightning Dust strips away the synth to let Webber’s layered vocals and skeletal acoustic-guitar lines tangle into a soaring lullaby that proves to be Fantasy‘s most glorious offering.
Lightning Dust claim the films of John Carpenter as a key inspiration for Fantasy, and indeed many of the songs channel the atmospheric spookiness of the Halloween score. But the album’s sensibility is aligned with a more fanciful corner of pre-MTV-era cinema, a teen romance told entirely in Pixy Stix-pastel and mascara-black. While that palette borders on dull and drab at moments (tracks like “In the City Tonight” and “Fire, Flesh and Bone” feel particularly plodding), Lightning Dust’s willful emotionalism and gracefulness of melody ultimately save Fantasy from slumping into monotony. By the time Webber asks “But did you recognize, we were seventeen and on a landslide?” on the epically tender closing track “Never Again,” you’re not quite sure whether she’s completely buying into her own vision of a pure-hearted and transcendent love – but you believe her anyway, and that’s more than enough.