Call Me Lightning – The Trouble We’re In

Halfway through The Trouble We’re In, sandwiched between a freaky ghost story that ends in what might be a condemnation of the entire human race and one of the album’s few duds, “Hungry Lions” greets the listener with a stop/start intro that kicks into a mixture of brute force and complex, interlocking rhythms that calls to mind nothing so much as Thrak-era King Crimson. Not exactly the norm for a band that came up through Milwaukee’s punk scene. Call Me Lightning’s debut recording contains traces of its members’ apprenticeships — the lyrics to “We Be Dragons” and singer/guitarist Nathan Lilly’s vocal delivery, for instance — but on the whole, the band’s aesthetic is much more PiL than Sex Pistols. Power chords, or any chords, are few and far between, traded in for rhythmic figures arranged like a jigsaw puzzle that keeps changing shape. Indeed, it’s the two simple songs that don’t take off. “Golden Radical (Young Professional)” and “Horseflies” both ride unchanging grooves that are more monochromatic than monolithic, and the former goes 0-3 by eliminating the guitar and trotting out tired “yuppies are soulless hypocrites” lyrics. The other songs have no such problems. Greatly concerned with ghosts that hover disturbingly between figurative and literal, Call Me Lightning’s lyrics frequently start in everyday life and expand metaphysically outward. “Ghosts In the Mirror” goes from a father’s liquor cabinet to a desperate need to know the future, while “Pizza Party” ends said event with the ringing condemnation “we are all the sons of wicked men.” As good as everything else is, it’s “Rotten River” that points the way forward. A tale of life in a broken marriage (“we’re going home/the kids the reason why/home/to live in frozen time”), it features the most restrained sound on the album, including Lilly’s eerily calm vocals, as well as one of its best lines, “I fantasize/my mind melts on the bar/gets wiped away.” The future is bright, but so is the present. An excellent debut. The Trouble We’re In is available at Atomic Records and Rush-Mor Records.