- Lightning Bolt
- Hypermagic Mountain
- October 18, 2005
An hour is far too long for a record like Hypermagic Mountain to last. For all the emphasis on breakneck speed and less-is-more instrumentation and composition, this album sure does take a hell of a long time to finish.
The working title for this record was Scribblemania 2, which seems a more apt descriptor. Very little of Hypermagic Mountain has the structural engineering required to support a titular rollercoaster, and plays more like manic scribbling, all, with a couple of exceptions, in the same color. Maybe they changed it so every music critic wouldn't make this dumb analogy.
The recording fidelity is pretty starkly inconsistent: the first half of Hypermagic Mountain is perhaps even dirtier than Lightning Bolt's self-titled debut, which was a series of live concert recordings stitched together. Presumably the intention is to emphasize the weight of the recordings-- every fan of the record I've spoken with has cited above all else its heaviness-- but, obviously, what is sacrificed is any emphasis on melody, which is what made Wonderful Rainbow so impossibly good, the perfect balance of overwhelming loudness with downright catchy songwriting. That, this ain't.
And a good deal of it isn't even that heavy. It's loud and overdriven, but "Birdy", for example, feels pretty structurally slight, and more apparent on tracks like "Megaghost" is the oft-marvelled-at fact that, yes, that guitar is a bass; the sound of the song really seems incomplete, this self-imposed instrumental limitation actually becoming a limitation for the first time, and delivering a pretty large blow to the guitar heroism basket in which are placed, if not all, at least the vast majority of the band's eggs. This carries over into "Magic Mountain", which is .. ridiculously boring, a repeated ascending scale accompanied with persistent bass drum thump-- not only is the relentless lack of bass-treble counterpoint crippling, but it really seems like neither Brian is trying very hard (I'm fairly confident that, fuzz and distortion aside, I could play that melody). It's the ultimate refinement of the band's comfort zone, and it's depressing as hell to listen to.
But then "Dead Cowboy" is amazing. "Dead Cowboy" is more or less Hypermagic Mountain's saving grace-- frenetic guitar work, genuine simultaneous interplay between treble and bass, variation in melody (i.e., distinct structure and evidence of songwriting), and-- is that-- is that downright prettiness I hear in there? "Dead Cowboy" says more in its eight minutes than I get from the entire remainder of the record, and it's the first song on the album that doesn't seem at least five minutes longer than it actually is. Unless this track gets you feeling generous, it's probably the last.
It's not all bad news after that, though: "Bizarro Zarro Land" is the frantic noisemaking of the first half of the record if it were done better, with an impressively gymnastic guitar performance put in, and almost evoking Philip Glass before the drums come in. By now, the recording quality has cleared up a bit, and that combined with a distance from the reliance on dull, chugging riff repetition sets the record off in an entirely new direction; unfortunately, from here, "Mohawkwindmill" sounds like an outtake from the self-titled album, "Bizarro Bike" sounds like an outtake from Ride the Skies, "Infinity Farm" sounds like an outtake from Creature Comforts, and "No Rest for the Obsessed" sounds like an outtake from, well, Hypermagic Mountain.
I've struggled with this review because I wasn't sure exactly what it is I wanted to say, and I still don't really feel like I've said it. Something along the lines of the fact that, all this time, the world has had it wrong, labelling Lightning Bolt as a straight-up noise band, talking a lot of nonsense about its musical impregnability ("let's not call them 'songs,' thank you", one All Music Guide reviewer goes so far as to say re: Wonderful Rainbow)-- they've always been a rock band, more akin to Oxes than Wolf Eyes-- and that on Hypermagic Mountain, for the first time, even Lightning Bolt themselves have got it wrong. And what kills me is that it doesn't sound like this is even the record that the band wanted to make. Other prominent disappointing follow-up albums released this year (The Books, the New Pornographers, Need New Body, etc.) all sound like a logical procession from where the band used to be, with certain trends that have been bubbling up for a while finally surfacing; in other words, the bands did it to themselves. I don't get that from this record. This sounds like the band deliberately stepping backward and sacrificing its essence to create the impregnable, let's-not-call-them-"songs" Lightning Bolt that everyone's been citing for years. It sucks. And it's your fault.
- Noah Jackson
- 2 Morro Morro Land
- Captain Caveman
- Magic Mountain
- Dead Cowboy
- Bizarro Zarro Land
- Bizarro Bike
- Infinity Farm
- No Rest for the Obsessed