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Black Mountain - In the Future

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Artist: Black Mountain

Album: In the Future

Label: Jagjaguwar

Review date: Jan. 18, 2008

Vancouver songman Stephen McBean and his band of retro-obsessed rockers, Black Mountain, are back with another helping of oily, wasteoid rock. In the Future is similar to the group’s 2005 self-titled debut, but in addition to the stoner shuffle and Sabbath tomfoolery, there’s a truckstop-meth- white-knuckle-roadside-terror vibe. I even hear a Uriah Heap influence in spots.

This kind of stuff always comes down to feel. Historically, I’ve been dismissive of bands like Witchcraft, handing out critical citations for their slavish imitation of threadbare riff-rock. But somewhere between the musically well trod and the as-yet-to-be-explored, there exists a middle ground of reasonably heady listening. This is precisely where Black Mountain have erected their sonic sweatlodge.

The first cut on In the Future, “Stormy High,” comes barreling down the rails in a rush of steam-powered riffage. Pumping organ and Amber Webber’s moaning background vocals provide padding for the megalithic drums and chug-a-lug guitars. McBean’s smoky melodies are well suited to the propulsive, smudgy rock. One imagines a thousand hash pipes billowing purple smoke to the starry heavens.

“Angels” is a Pacific Northwest heroin ballad of understated, awkward beauty. I think it’s a boy-girl song, but it hardly matters. Sweeping (and somewhat unexpected) strings fuse the aching verses together, while Mellotron flute stabs give the song a curiously childlike air. Tunes like this can quickly become mawkish caricatures, but “Angels” says what it has to say and gets the fuck out.

Epic, brooding and completely over-the-top, “Tyrants” finds Black Mountain throwing psych-rock ideas against the wall to see what sticks. Most of it does. The mellow sections are spare and heartfelt, the buildups full of edgy menace. Not many groups can combine pop songwriting with proto-metal axework without sounding terminally cheesy. Yet Black Mountain, more often than not, pull it off. I’m still trying to figure out how.

“Wucan” comes across like a harder-edged Brightblack Morning Light. Musically, it’s nice enough, with groovy mood-organ and hypno-bass. But McBean’s vocal sounds contrived, like Coldplay playing at “stoner rock.” (Shockingly, Black Mountain opened for Coldplay on a leg of their ’05 tour – perhaps we’re hearing some Chris Martin rub-off?)

The sunnier, acoustic driven “Stay Free” fares better, with a cuddly falsetto and country-waltz percussion. It’s followed by the spacey “Queens Will Play,” which features a witchy (and pitchy) vocal from Webber.

Black Mountain won’t win any prizes for innovation, but their slightly bruised brand of retro is far more fertile than that of their contemporaries. In the Future scores three and-a-half bongs, easy.

By Casey Rae-Hunter

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