Album Review: Lightning Bug – A Color of the Sky

[Fat Possum; 2021]

So far, no two Lightning Bug records have sounded the same. The minimalism of their 2015 debut Floaters hasn’t followed the quintet through either follow-up; 2019’s shoegaze blitz October Song saw them penetrate ear drums with distortion and hearts palpitate with reverb, and they now return with A Color the Sky, which sees them pivot again, but in the opposite direction. This time, it’s all about sunny vibes and lush transcending waves.

A four year gap separated their first two records, but Sky is dropping only two years after October Song, some of which might be from that pandemic you may have read about, and some of it comes from the International Kite Festival in Long Beach, Washington, that lead singer and songwriter Audrey Kang drew inspiration from. This aerial event helped usher in a new phase for the band, and it’s evidenced right off the bat with opener “The Return”, a porch-rocker overflowing with sticky rhythms that, if it were any hazier, would need to be reclassified as an IPA.

A Color of the Sky doesn’t fully abandon October Songs‘ pricklier moments, but they definitely take a backseat to Lightning Bug’s dreamy aesthetic this time. Nearly every track on Sky is homogenous in theme, there are elements that run throughout the record that give it a completeness – almost as if it’s one giant, stream-of-consciousness motif. Kang’s voice isn’t nearly as hushed either, and Sky sounds fuller and brighter thanks to her commanding presence. To the uninitiated, this could be easily confused for some other band in the dreampop spectrum.

When set side-by-side, Lightning Bug’s output can be traced back to the shoegaze greats of our time; the band has taken obvious influence from My Blood Valentine, Slowdive, and Ride in various aspects of their music, but for the first time A Color of the Sky seems harder to pinpoint. It can be woozy and spritely one moment, like on the guitar rock jammer “Song of the Bell”, or it can lose itself in the trippy outro of “September Song, pt. ii”. A sequel to the penultimate track on October Song, “September Song, pt. ii” shares little in common with its bleak predecessor, this is a livelier jam with wood wind samples and fluttery chimes to that swirl into a psychedelic whirlpool.

Kang’s outlook has brightened since the last record too, she’s in a much better place and it comes through in her vocals and lyrics on A Color of the Sky. There’s optimism present in lines like “I guess I’ll point my arrow straight / towards the beauty I want to believe” from the astute “Song of the Bell”. It’s obvious she’s singing from a different mental place this time; she seems to be hyper focused on shedding the painful setbacks of recent years – and that includes the trials experienced with getting Sky out into the world. Despite feeling topical for our times, Sky was ready to go in early 2020, but the lockdown prevented its releases till now.

This delay, while undoubtedly frustrating, now works to the album’s benefit. Instead of coming out during a chaotic year, Lightning Bug are heading into what should be the most jovial summer in history, now that things are seemingly opening back up. Songs like “The Right Thing is Hard to Do” can now soundtrack people’s lives during their happiest – during times that may seem slightly uncertain, but nevertheless optimistic. A Color of the Sky is now a beautiful summer record, perfect for consumption during long-awaited family reunions and Saturday brunches. It’s calming and colorful, with upbeat guitars when needed, and smooth melodies to ease into – the perfect record to pull oneself out of a pandemic to.