The Color of the Sky in Lightning Bug’s World
When I first heard of Lightning Bug, it was described as shoegaze. Shoegaze hasn’t been a force in music for more than 30 years. That made for an odd classification. Unless they were purposefully retro, the shoegaze shouldn’t fit. Yet, a quick listen to 2019’s October Sky suggested someone knew what they were talking about when they were deciding which bucket Lightning Bug belonged in. There were the droning guitars, ethereal and distorted vocals, waves of feedback, and slow pounding drums common to bands such as The Jesus and Mary Chain, My Bloody Valentine, and Swervedriver. Now, I don’t know if they actually stare at their feet when playing (the root of the term shoegaze) but they definitely fit the class musically.
After all that convincing that Lightning Bug was actually shoegaze, their latest album comes out and, lo and behold, it is not shoegaze. Not even a little. The droning distorted guitars are gone. The buried vocals? Done with that. Feedback? Nope. A Color of the Sky dispenses with all the shoegaze elements in favor of a brighter but more ethereal sound. The guitar work is simpler but still layered, more like indie dream pop, but without the droning. Vocals are now hushed and dreamy but in a Cowboy Junkies manner. In short, A Color of the Sky sounds like an amalgamation of dream pop, new age, and progressive rock.
This new direction is not, by any reckoning, mainstream pop music. It is, however, more mainstream than their previous shoegaze work. It follows along the same path as recent releases by London Grammar (sans the trip hop), Morcheeba, Goat Girl, and St. Vincent. A Color of the Sky provides, like these albums, emotionally informed, ethereal soundscapes.
In many ways, Lightning Bug reminds me of Lush. Back in the late 80s and early 90s, Lush skirted the line between shoegaze and dream pop, eventually settling into uninspired alt-rock. The album Split marked the transition from shoegaze to dream pop, as well as underground success and mainstream acceptance. In the same way, A Color of the Sky, marks a change from shoegaze to… what? Modern dream pop? Neo-progressive? Perhaps just indie pop? I would argue that all of these are true. That’s what makes this album so appealing. It is not trying to fit into a specific slot in the music industry. It is a maturation of their sound from their shoegaze roots to something infinitely more interesting.
Quite a bit of thought went into the production of this album, which I appreciate. There aren’t any standout singles but that’s expected for this type of music. There is a tendency for one song to run into another, much as roads run into each other on the way to a destination. That makes sense, since this album is not about the individual songs as much as the gestalt. The songs together create a great album even while the individual songs aren’t themselves outstanding. A Color of the Sky is an album meant to be listened to in its entirety and not just as a small component of a playlist.
There is clearly a market for music that you can just listen to, probably while smoking some weed. A lot of artists are heading into that direction but along different paths. Lighting Bug has decided on their own path, adjacent to these other movements but not firmly in any one camp. While they were a good, if not a little retro, shoegaze band, they are on the verge of being a great band without a clear label. Fans of the shoegaze Lightning Bug may not like the change if they, like fans are want to do, adhere to their old constructs. If they open their minds, however, they will be rewarded. We will all be rewarded by listening to the new and improved Lightning Bug.