Lightning Love's 2008 debut November Birthday was a collection of bright, enthusiastic and minimally arranged indie pop coupled with dour, neurotic lyrics that swung from ironically witty to borderline cry-for-help territory. The underlying despair of the album was easily outshined by the band's gift for hooks and straightforward melodies proud to be uncluttered and classically streamlined, even if they were supporting lyrics about falling-down drunkeness or not wanting to leave the house. In the years that followed, Lightning Love didn't refine their approach so much as grow into it, and with sophomore full length Blonde Album, the trio sound comfortable, confident and driven, or at least as much as they possibly can when performing songs born out of anxiety and uncomfortable feelings. Songs like "I Know" and "Deadbeat" sound epic in their directness, Leah Diehl's wintery voice, pulsing keyboards and banging piano stretching out over minimal beats and spare guitar counter melodies. The band's ability to compose monumental pop songs out of minimal ingredients is one of the strongest elements of their sound, using negative space in their glowing indie pop to the same effect that the Talking Heads applied it to their dance grooves. Drummer Aaron Diehl and guitarist/vocalist Ben Collins contribute parts so measured and tastefully restrained, it's clear that all three instrumentalists have approached the album as seasoned songwriters, aware of the balance necessary to make an arrangement shine. Though it's free of self-indulgent solos or overproduction, the album is not without it's unevenness. "Bobby Thompson", a stompy duet between Diehl and guest vocalist Pauly Doerr sounds hastily written, if still somewhat infectious in it's overdriven melodicism. Likewise, the sing-songy "Awkward" is pleasant enough but sounds half-baked when compared to the inspired and strange soar of "Just Friends" or the Eric Satie-borrowing solo piano and vocals dirge "I'll Never Love No One Else". The few moments here that are less fully-formed still fit in to the overarching feel of the record, which wastes very little space, keeping a constant bee-line moving between pop perfection and disparaging undertones. By the album's close, it's unclear if the bleakness, awkwardness and irreparable relationships that make up much of it's content are really cause for concern or just a necessary factor for the special breed of self-aware indiepop Lightning Love has made their own. While some of the lyrics cast heavy shadows over the songs, Blonde Album as a whole is so criminally catchy and meticulously arranged, the darkness simply becomes another hook.
AllMusic Review by Fred Thomas