Peninsular Place

The Magazine

July 30, 2012

Lightning Love: Anxious. Awkward. Catchy. Magical. Blondes on the “Blonde Album.”

Lightning Love, Ann Arbor, 7/25/12 by Doug Coombe

Alright, get ready.

Leah Diehl had to pump herself up when the phone rang. She was anxious.

Her band, Ypsi’s own Lightning Love, have their second full length release, “Blonde Album,” coming out and she’s battening her hatches against my regretted perfunctory punch card of questions like: So, how does this album compare to your last album (2008’s “November Birthday”)?

But some of the songs you’ll hear at their release show were written almost three years ago and the album itself was completed, done, finito (in their own home studios) nine months ago.

“Trying. To. Think.” Leah stalls over the phone. “How does it feel…?”

I’ll tell you how it feels: warm and whimsical yet weighty. Sweet and exuberant, yet restless. Fun music with fretful lyrics. To-the-point-pop music. And, particularly, the sound propulsive and capricious but humble and self-deprecating songs on “Blonde” bring a feeling of pensive escapism as though it were soundtracking my own Wes Anderson-esque slow-motion ride, pedaling barefoot on a rusty Schwin beach cruiser toward the incoming tide at sunset with an overcast sky behind me.

It’s a head-in-the-clouds sound of shambled-boogies and indelible hooks from a down-to-earth voice (Diehl’s) over a buzzy, bouncing piano, drums tastefully steppin’ (but then punctually slammin’), guitars flaring fire when needed but usually just supplementing subtle jangle-riffs.

Maybe anxious is the best word.

“I’m one of those people who worries when there’s nothing to worry about,” Diehl says. “That anxiety I feel about a lot of stuff really just works well [for songs] – just being a crazy worrier, these dizzy feelings of ‘what am I doing?’ But I’d also talk to anybody about it in person then and turn it into a joke.”

“Maybe that’s what the music is – very poppy. It sounds happy, but the lyrics are high strung.”

Diehl’s been writing and playing music for most of her life and for the past six years consecutively collaborating with her younger brother Aaron (on drums) and adopted-brother Ben Collins (on guitar). This almost, essentially, started out, initially, as “Aaron’s band,” recalls Ben, “back to, I think, before it was even going to be called Lightning Love,” (as Aaron is a songwriter in his own right, but that’s another story). Lightning Love’s current course locked in when Leah fatefully pumped herself up to perform live at the Elbow Room (with Aaron backing her) timid tries of demos she’d been recording. This is around 2006 during the waning days of her tenure in Ann Arbor indie-pop collective Minor Planets.

These three “blondes” are local staples. Two Wolverines and one Eagle. Aaron’s got his own recording project and has worked with other Arbor/Ypsi-ites (Gun Lake and Ferdy Mayne). And Ben’s honing his audio engineering craft working the night-shift at Big Sky Recording with Geoff Michael (I caught him en-route to the studio to record songs for another local band he joined last year, Starling Electric. But, again, that’s another story).

And Leah, well, she moved to Hamtramck last year. “I miss Ypsi a lot,” she says, readier to recite on the subject of her true-home’s music scene than she might be on the whole “what does this album sound-like” stuff.

“Ypsi’s pretty unpretentious,” she says. “You can do anything and everyone is really supportive out there.” (She counts AA-label Quite Scientific, fosterer of the “Blonde Album” under said-supportive-category.) “Everyone though, people working in very different genres just hang out and talk about music. Greg McIntosh (Great Lakes Myth Society folkist), Jim Cherewick (Congress punkist) and I (Lightning Love popist), just the three of us, were down by the river the other day…cuz, ya know, this is a town where you can just go ‘down-by-the-river’… and we’re talking music. We were speaking the same language.”

Attending Patrick Elkins’ unconventional/experimentalist-encouraging Totally Awesome Fest recently helped her feel like she was getting back on her feet, she said, like she knew what she was doing again.

“The more successful that we get – even though we’re not crazy-successful – but the more I feel sometimes out-of-touch with the way I started, which was doing demos in my bedroom.”

Do the songs help her get back on her feet? “I wish I could say (“Blonde”) exorcised some demons, but I feel like the newest songs are even worse with that crap.” She laughs/groans.

Ben says, “You’re always most excited about the stuff that’s not done yet. She somehow keeps getting catchier and more melodic and more interesting with every song she writes.” Even if it’s about, like, “near-crushing depression.”

But the boys have their roles now in what’s become much more than the initial augmented harvestings of an overly pensive, unlucky-in-love young lady atop a delicate piano – with Ben as an adhoc producer and Aaron as an adhoc arranger. Ben exudes Aaron’s vitality with the same marvel he holds for Leah’s writing: “He has a very good mind for the big picture” of songs.

More importantly: “I can be the one who makes sure everything’s going to go okay,” says Leah, while “(Aaron) can stay there to crack me up and make sure I don’t go crazy.”

And Ben? “Oh, Ben’s also on that side.”

Ben’s excited for their September tour (paired with Detroit’s electric-soul-shifters Jamaican Queens, formerly Prussia), since it’s L.L.’s first headlining trip. More so, though, he’s excited to finish their latest songs, as he’s newly enamored with the warmth/purity of analog tape recording, recently capturing Leah’s voice on some demos.

“It’s the sound I’ve been trying to find for years,” said Ben.

Leah, meanwhile, is “trying to find” her own voice, keeping things fresh by blending classical music with sides of rap, but, then, also consciously examining the intricacies of musical evocation. “Why does it sound good to me? It’s not magic. It sounds magical because they found this beautiful melody and they’re saying heartfelt or sometimes slightly awkward things over it, but then that strikes you more. But I feel like I’ve wandered away from your questions…”

Like, what does this album sound like?

Deep sigh. “I’m trying to think…Uh. Yeah…”

Lightning Love’s “Blonde Album” Release Party with Wally Dogger and Jamaican Queens will take place at 9 p. m. on August 31 at Woodruff’s Bar. Cover is $5.



About the Author

Jeff Milo
Jeff Milo
Jeff is another awesome member of the iSPY team.

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