Review: Lightning Love – November Birthday (2009)

I was in the basement of the Empty Bottle last September on the couch with a friend and his laptop. He was telling me about a few bands he’d been digging on recently when he mentioned that he wanted to play me a record by a trio of rambunctious young scamps from a place called Ypsilanti, Michigan. “Are you kidding me?” I said. “I’m from Ypsi. I went to college at Eastern!” “So you know that big penis-looking water tower?” Of course that was the most memorable thing about Ypsi to him. It’s the most memorable thing about Ypsi to a lot of people. Unless you get mugged or assaulted in Ypsi. Then that’s probably the most memorable thing.  Regardless, at the mention of my former hometown, my interest wasn’t just piqued, it was invested. I had to hear these kids and I had to hear them now.

I was introduced to Lightning Love with the song “Friends”, an adorable, catchy bit of indie pop bliss that perfectly juxtaposes the song’s sheer cuteness with lyrics that pull no punches about some of lead singer Leah Diehl‘s less attractive drunken nights.

“Friends” tells you everything you need to know about Lightning Love and their debut November Birthday. While the music sticks in your head with it’s pop hooks and indie sensibilities, the lyrics are brutal bits of honesty coming from a girl who’s so candid and confessional that, by the end of November Birthday, not only do you feel like you know Diehl, but you feel like she’s one of your best friends. By the end of the album, when she sings “I can’t help havin’ a good time” in the scamping anthem “Good Time”, you just smile and think to yourself “Oh, Leah! Look at you! At it again!” with a dismissive laugh.

It’s amazing that Lightning Love isn’t better known because they truly have a winning formula. Diehl is cute as a button and plays the keyboard better than most the girls in electro-pop bands that Pitchfork is raving about these days. Couple that with the fact that both her band mates are foxy gents and you’ve got the “attractive” part of the market cornered. (For those keeping score at home, those gents answer to Ben Collins, who slings guitar, and Aaron Diehl, Leah’s drumming brother who occasionally lends his voice to accompany big sis.) The music is catchy and can soundtrack a mean dance party. The lyrics are honest, earnest, and relatable. And Diehl’s voice? It’s the most unique voice this side of Joanna Newsom, only instead of being backed by harp during a sixteen minute ambitious composition, it’s backed by searingly infectious keyboards! Is there anything not to love about the Michigan trio? Answer: No. No, there is not.

Personally, a good portion of the fact that Lightning Love’s debut has grown on me so over the past year is the fact that, well, I am Leah Diehl. I mean that figuratively, of course. In reality, I’m Amber Valentine. But if I wrote about my life with the candor of Diehl, it would end up sounding suspiciously like her songs. Much like Diehl, I can’t help havin’ a good time. I also have troubles with monogamy, a nasty habit of drinking too much, causing inebriated fights with pals, saying the wrong things at the wrongs times, and accidentally finding myself being called a home wrecker after finding out my new suitor has a lady waiting for him at home. To top it all off, my friends can always gauge my level of sobriety by taking a look at my feet. If I’m wearing shoes, I’m sober. If I’m not, well, trash talking is in danger of happening and my phone should be taken away.

Of course, you don’t have to be a lush or a scamp to appreciate the wonders of Lightning Love. All you have to be is a lover a good music. “Everyone I Know” is deceptively simple, with more elements emerging from it’s poppy woodwork the more you listen to it. “Girls Are Always Wrong” starts out with a sexy stomp that evolves into sugary sweet layered vocals and the album’s first appearance, vocally, by the male Diehl. And everything about the album‘s second to last track, “Wait, Wait”, sticks with you, from the electronic handclaps to the optimistic refrain of “Your face an inch from mine; And my heart stops, this is all I want”. Anyone who’s ever had a crush (And let’s face it – That’s everyone!) can relate to Diehl’s sentiments.

Despite the fact that November Birthday clocks in at just barely over 25 minutes, the album feels like a cohesive debut, a proper representation of who Lightning Love is and what they’re all about. The only song of November Birthday’s eleven that isn’t utterly memorable is the fifty second long title track, which is less a song as it is an interlude, featuring none of Diehl’s signature vocals and self-deprecating lyrics.

I can’t help but feel, with the right press and tours behind them, Lightning Love could really be the next big break out act. I’ve yet to hear an album catchier than November Birthday and despite the fact that I am a folk kid through and through, I’m proud to say the Lightning Love is my favorite modern band.

Lightning Love
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Rating: 7.9/10

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