Lightning Dust's excellent 2013 album Fantasy marked a shift for the Vancouver duo, moving from the subdued folky tones of their earliest work to embrace dark, synthy pop. The band began as a side project of founding Black Mountain members Amber Webber and Joshua Wells, foiling their main band's brawny guitar rock with moodier material. Fourth album Spectre comes after a six-year interim where Webber and Wells parted ways with Black Mountain to focus on Lightning Dust full time. Still leaning heavily on vintage synth sounds and brooding moods, the band lets go of the pop formula that informed Fantasy for a more multi-dimensional approach to the album's songcraft. Webber's stunning vocals are even more central to these songs than before, reminiscent at various moments of the stark power of Portishead's Beth Gibbons, the whispery intrigue of Bat for Lashes' Natasha Khan, and Stevie Nicks' haunting elegance. Album opener "Devoted To" is a perfect storm of the band's powers. It moves from a spooky intro of synths into a tense but dynamic groove. One part horror movie soundtrack, one part existential crisis, the song pairs dour acoustic guitars and some of Webber's witchiest vocals for an album highlight. Much of the album falls in line with this chilly, autumnal mood, songs like "Joanna," and "Run Away" blending electronic and organic instruments as a backdrop for Webber's plaintive, reaching self-harmonizing. Even when Spectre strips down the instrumentation to just piano and vocals, as with the floating "More" and "Inglorious Flu," the ominous atmosphere of the record is still thick. Lightning Dust albums always explore various styles, and the back half of Spectre includes the explosive psychedelic guitar chug of "Competitive Depression," the swaying Cat Power-esque "A Pretty Picture," and sprawling, urgent album closer "3AM/100 Degrees." More dense, driven, and complexly rendered than anything else in the band's catalog, Spectre expands on the strongest moments of Lightning Dust's ever-shifting muse. The production, songwriting, and performances all reach new levels of curiosity and unpredictable moves, making it some of the band's most captivating work.
AllMusic Review by Fred Thomas