Wild Mercury Sound

Black Mountain: "In The Future"

John Mulvey

After yesterday’s technical grief, I’ve now managed to play the new Black Mountain album three or four times. There’s a lot of stuff about angels laying their halos down and demons hiding in the shadows here. Blood is spreading across the walls, witchy children have black magic touches and, pointedly, Stephen McBean and Amber Webber chant in “Bright Lights”, “We love the night and all the witchery.”

Pretty daft, then, but highly effective when it comes bound up in Black Mountain’s inspired hybrid of stoner rock, ‘70s Krautsynth, parched Neil Youngisms, sludge boogie and any other arcane genres I can fabricate this morning. The Black Mountain Army, should you have missed Uncut’s faint obsession with them in 2006, are a hairy collective who spend their days caring for homeless drug users in their hometown of Vancouver.

They still have time, though, to figure in a multitude of bands, and most of them are great. Singer/guitarist Stephen McBean, singer Amber Webber and drummer Joshua Wells figure in Velvetsy drone-poppers The Pink Mountaintops. Bassist Matt Camirand and Wells do dusty Americana in Blood Meridian; Jeremy Schmidt makes orbiting, keyboard prog as Sinoia Caves; and Webber and Wells recently filed a set of stark, torchy folk as Lightning Dust.

Black Mountain is the hub band, though, steered by McBean, and the place were all these strains run together and commingle with a distinctly heavier imperative. Their self-titled debut was a big office favourite here in 2006, and ended up at Number Four in our last albums of the year list.

I’m not sure “In The Future” is quite that good, but it still feels, on initial acquaintance, like a mighty good record. The strategy is to go for long, brooding atmospherics, punctuated by outbreaks of meticulous heavy riffing. With Schmidt’s keyboards to the forefront, the obvious ‘70s correlative is Deep Purple, not least when “Stormy High” kicks off with such a gallop. But his tastes lean more to Tangerine Dream than Jon Lord this time, so the songs are longer and filled with more gaping, cosmic spaces – “Bright Lights” sprawls out for well over 15 minutes, as a result.

It all works, though. At this early stage, I’m liking “Wucan” best, maybe because it’s closest to the bong-headed funk of the first album’s stand-out, “Druganaut”. Also working well this morning: a skanky ramalam called “Evil Ways”; and the frail “Harvest”-like ballad “Stay Free” that a few of you might have found, implausibly, on the soundtrack to “Spiderman 3”. There’s also a new reference point in their apparent desire to borrow everything from a classic Uncut record collection, since “Wild Wind” is a dead ringer for folksy David Bowie, specifically something off “Hunky Dory”.

I’ll come back to this one when I’ve played it some more. In the meantime, you can hear some of Black Mountain’s old stuff at their myspace site.


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