Lightning Cult’s EP2
Ether Waves Shows us What Happens After Survival
Some amount of personal suffering is expected to be felt by those who create music, but it’s rare for musicians to fuel their work with it as adeptly as Lightning Cult’s Mike Marchant. Now living in Santa Fe, the former Denver musician was hailed as one of the city’s most promising songwriters until a devastating cancer diagnosis stopped him in his tracks in 2012. Marchant survived but experienced significant memory loss related to chemotherapy and radiation treatments. A crippling self-destructive period followed. The Lightning Cult project represents Marchant’s return to music-making and reveals an artist transformed through tragedy and tenacity.
After his recovery, Marchant relocated to Santa Fe and discovered Storming the Beaches with Logos in Hand, a sprawling multimedia project headed up by songwriter, multi-instrumentalist, and producer Luke Carr. Marchant initially hired Carr to produce his work before enlisting him as a permanent fixture in Lightning Cult.
EP2: Ether Waves is Lightning Cult’s sequel to Burner, the group’s 2018 debut EP. With Marchant’s sonorous vocals floating above grinding synths and miasmic electric guitar lines, Ether Waves covers themes of identity, memory, and emotional turmoil with the pretense of a careless day at the beach. A deceptively brooding effort that grows darker and more complex with each listen, Lightning Cult’s newest offering shows us the aftermath and personal cost of survival.
With Marchant’s sonorous vocals floating above grinding synths and miasmic electric guitar lines, Ether Waves covers themes of identity, memory, and emotional turmoil with the pretense of a careless day at the beach.
“Go on—give the storm a name,” Marchant sings in a boyish timbre on “Starcave,” a song that builds a parade float out of resignation and sends it through town. “Tell me, what’s it like to live/With a map that makes sense?/Watch me while I disappear/I will do it again, again.” It’s a disorienting track that seems to be sourced everywhere, from traditional folk trappings to Brian Wilson’s otherworldly vocal harmonies to unabashedly pop-inspired West Coast aesthetics.
“Pacific Hits,” the EP’s first single, has quickly earned a modest following, evidenced by Spotify’s nod in adding the song to its curated Alt. Rocked. playlist. Whirling organs and driving drums meld with guitars in a satisfying track that sounds designed to accompany big-budget movie trailers and TV shows. “Drifter/Bruiser” props up delicate vocal harmonies over thick, wobbly electronics and distant clanking pianos in a pensive and romantic song that harkens back to Death Cab for Cutie’s earlier work, before the song ventures off somewhere darker and more mysterious in its second act.
“Delerio” is the EP’s strangest track and features the most obvious link to Marchant’s struggles with cancer: “These bottles and bags/Their imprints and their stamps/They scream just as loud/As the flood of the chemical can/I shoulda died/A hundred times/But I won’t, yet.” The least accessible track on the EP, the music here doesn’t quite work, but maybe that’s the point. In its disorientation and defiance, the song represents Marchant’s mindset and willingness to move forward and create after everything he’s suffered.
By most every measure, Ether Waves is promising and shows a creatively energized band that’s still working to define their sound and find their creative footing. Lightning Cult is currently hard at work crafting the music that will eventually be released on their debut full-length album. Judging by what they’ve accomplished through Ether Waves, we’re in for a deceptively dark, hard-hitting spectacle.