Guided by the inquisitive lyrics of singer Audrey Kang as she narrates the process of searching for self through song, the band’s lush third album feels like a ride-along to the creative process.
Lightning Bug have previously wrestled with the fragile alchemy of the artistic process. On their third album, the billowing A Color of the Sky, singer Audrey Kang zeroes in on a fascination with self-discovery through song, contemplating music’s ability to illuminate deeper truths in both its author and receiver, and artistic labor’s unlikely transfiguration into bliss. Underneath the record’s enveloping shoegaze swoon, these quiet musings bring us close enough to feel the vulnerable intimacy of its creation.
A Color of the Sky is the New York group’s most direct and fully rendered work to date: a beautiful collection of songs paying direct homage to the dreamy atmospheres, curling synthesizers, and blown-out guitars of slow-burning art rock and blistering shoegaze greats: Mazzy Star, My Bloody Valentine, Slowdive, Cocteau Twins, the Stone Roses. Yet Lightning Bug re-imagine this canon in the context of an entirely new plot. Like Creation Records fan fiction, a ’90s 4AD reboot, or a shoegaze memoir, A Color of the Sky builds upon a familiar palette, reconfiguring foundational sounds in order to reexamine them.
Lyrically, the album amounts to an extended meditation on the struggle inherent in the creative process. “If I empty me of all myself, am I a vessel or a shell?/Mining for the substance in the dark and precious well/Pour out my convictions till I’m hollow as a bell,” Kang sings on “Song of the Bell.” Her voice’s delicate confidence tells its own story. The record’s driving momentum and spiritual haze simultaneously pit enchantment and disillusionment against each other. The evolution from simple song to sonic universe is almost always made clear by each track’s gradually intensifying production, effectively mimicking this dialogue. Most songs build upward from a quiet voice and an acoustic guitar, drum, or synth into a sea of lulling feedback and fluttering ambience, direct conversations bleeding out into layered fantasies. Each song has a brief moment when the whimsical textures dissipate, and Kang is left alone, looking directly into the mirror.
“When you’re playing or writing a song, you have to enter your own little world to access it. I think that’s another way of ‘coming back to yourself,’” Kang told Stereogum last month. Kang articulates this dance on opener “The Return”: “But as I starе into the heart of my own twisting fire/The songs yet to be written flock around me like a choir.” She reckons with the need for the work of others to communicate her own feelings: “I turn to poetry/I turn to the books I read/To say what I mean,” she whispers on the album’s title track. She interrogates the phenomenon of the phantasmagoria, how signifiers can feel more real than what they remind us of: “How colors feel stronger and feelings so true/That even the flowers smell more like you.” Narrating the process of searching for the self through song, A Color of the Sky feels like a surreal ride-along to the creative process. Even so, it can be difficult to make out these lyrics through their quiet exhaled delivery behind a haze of effects, like pulling back a curtain only to reveal a cloud.
Listening to A Color of the Sky can feel, at times, like playing all of your favorite shoegaze, alt-rock, and dream-pop records at once, Zaireeka-style. Moments feel plucked directly from their source, recontextualized as subtle elegies to the loyal comforts of a treasured record collection. From the Bends-era heavy chords of “I Lie Awake” to the Loveless-like harsh whisper-squeals of “Song of the Bell” to the patient Talk Talk tribute “The Chase,” a collage of lush synth tones and fuzzy warmth orbits each track like an atmosphere, evaporating into thin air, and drifting away like a memory.
A Color of the Sky’s immersive textures beckon, while its meta-aware poetry keeps the listener at a distance. Yet Kang’s attempts to demystify the nature of songwriting somehow pull us in closer, providing a glimpse into the process of creation. Lightning Bug’s ability to transform the vulnerability and struggles of producing meaningful art into a gorgeous and deeply affecting record is its own sort of magic trick. A Color of the Sky wears its derivative textures as a superhero might don a form-fitting costume, transforming tales of creative defeat into high-definition triumphs.
Buy: Rough Trade