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Lightning Bolt 

Ride the Skies (Load)

Wednesday, Apr 11 2001
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Over the past five years, Lightning Bolt has carved out a unique niche in the surprisingly fertile post-hardcore scene of Providence, R.I. Blending propulsive drums and blaring feedback, the band creates blunt, simple riffs drenched in noise and speed. During live shows, the duo of bassist Brian Gibson and vocalist/drummer Brian Chippendale often sets up guerrilla-style on venue dance floors (never on a proper stage), with Chippendale doing handstands and backflips midsong. Occasionally, Lightning Bolt steals the last riff from whatever unsuspecting band opens for it, converting the melody into warped, absurdist clamor. In doing so, LB grafts the copyright libertarianism of sampling onto punk's sonic extremity, applying the simple principle of the remix, sans overdubs or digital trimmings. While fare of this sort tends to read as "music by musicians for musicians," Lightning Bolt exhibits a freaky glee and primal force that undercut the academic dryness of similarly minded rock or prog acts. (Many of the bands in Providence's music scene -- built around the Fort Thunder art space, which both Brians helped run -- have a sense of humor that can be both off-putting and infectiously fun.)

Ride the Skies is the first Lightning Bolt effort approaching any form of clarity in recording quality. Several previous vinyl-only releases were recorded live and sounded like free jazz played over a speakerphone. While the album's studio setting adds little sense to Chippendale's chanted, microphone-swallowing vocals, the record's more measured musicianship gives the songs some texture. On "Wee Ones Parade," the duo engages in an uncanny call-and-response between Chippendale's vocal squeals and Gibson's animal mimicry, while on "Rotator" Gibson's instrument approximates an organ gone mad. Gibson's bass parts come from prog and speed-metal finger-tapping styles, but his tonal rhythms have less in common with, say, Japan's Ruins (another bass/drums duo) than with the anti-melodic oscillations found on Lou Reed's Metal Machine Music, an album as prescient for this sort of fiasco as for the glitches of new electronica.

In its unfashionably organic way, Lightning Bolt has made a live techno album: Chippendale's beats match the speed of drum machines set for self-immolation. Whether the dance-music populace is ready for garbled verbiage about "Thirteen Monsters" or fuzzed-out bass riffs, Ride the Skies indicates a willingness on the part of heavy-rock devotees to cannibalize rock's clichéd carcass beyond recognition.

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George Chen

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