After a four-year hiatus, the noise rock duo Lightning Bolt return with their seventh full-length album and second under Thrill Jockey Records. Sonic Citadel sees the band try their hand with new experimentation, but like previous albums, Sonic Citadel isn’t perfect.
The first and most notable thing any Lightning Bolt fan will pickup on is how clear the vocals are compared to other albums. Brian Chippendale’s vocals are still being projected through an old telephone talk box, but unlike all other projects you can actually understand *most* of what he is saying. This new experimentation is a step in the right direction for the band since not only are the bass riffs memorable, but the vocals as well. Tracks like, USA Is A Psycho, Air Conditioning, Hüsker Dön’t, Halloween 3, Don Henley In The Park, Tom Thump, Bouncy House, and All Insane are great examples of Chippendale’s catchy vocal performance.
Similarly to Lightning Bolt’s 2015 album, Fantasy Empire, the duo recorded this newest album in a studio. Previously, all of their albums had been recorded live while both played their respective instruments over one another. By recording separately in a studio the band does a great job properly mixing the vocals, but misses the mark when it comes to percussion mixing.
Even though the band is well known for their abrasive percussion from Chippendale, the snare drum mixing on most notably USA Is A Psycho, but also Van Halen 2049 makes the songs almost unbearable to listen to when using headphones. Both songs feature a snare note that is so loud my head started pounding after only a minute into each song. Even though their early albums were recorded live, I never had an issue with getting a headache while listening to the band. The fact that they underutilized the mixing is a real disappointment when it comes to these two songs, especially when the vocals of USA Is A Psycho are so good, and the closing track Van Halen 2049 is nine minutes long.
Van Halen 2049 also feels like a mess compared to other long closers within the Lightning Bolt discography, namely the last song from Fantasy Empire, Snow White (& The 7 Dwarves Fans). Unlike Van Halen 2049, Snow White (& The 7 Dwarves Fans) has a great buildup, instrumental progression, and proper mixing. Thankfully, the album makes up for these aforementioned errors because the songs that are done well, are done REALLY well. Their previous albums’ flaws of stagnating pace and memorability are almost nonexistent when it comes to the listenable tracks on this album.
Even though the mixing issue of Sonic Citadel is more blatant than past Lightning Bolt albums, the best part of their latest project is that the vast majority of songs are some of the band’s most memorable to date.
Favorite Tracks: Blow To The Head, Air Conditioning, Hüsker Dön’t, Big Banger, Halloween 3, Don Henley In The Park, Tom Thump, Bouncy House, All Insane