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Pink Mountain - Untitled

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Artist: Pink Mountain

Album: Untitled

Label: Sickroom

Review date: Jul. 9, 2009

If the harrowing noise of the opening few seconds of “Shelflife” have you confused as to whether you just permanently damaged your hard drive or stereo, you’re already in the right mentality for listening to Pink Mountain’s latest untitled full-length. The erratic nature of their music – a mixture of avant-garde jazz and noise influences via stoner- and classic-rock riffdom – is at times bewildering and frustrating, aimless and overly academic. But criticizing the more ambitious portions of this record is only telling half the story. This is an experienced collective of musicians that knows the value in a well deployed hook just as much as they know the power of an atonal synth squall.

This dichotomy rests at the heart of both the band’s sound as well as its biography. The experienced quintet has played in or with big-name left-field artists such as Jandek, Oxbow, John Zorn and Fred Frith, to name but a few. It’s that spirit of aural adventurousness that shines throughout the album, perhaps most explicitly in the seven-minute “Foreign Rising,” that acts as the midway point on this 14-song follow-up to their self-titled debut from 2006. The chaos in Scott Rosenberg and Kyle Bruckman’s skronky double reeds, plus a healthy helping of distorted analog synthesizers and Gino Robair’s freeform percussion styles, demonstrates how far Pink Mountain can deviate from standard time signatures and tonality. Its resemblance to avant-garde jazz albums from guys like Albert Ayler or Albert Doyle is noticeable.

But if they are frequently veering off the beaten rockist path, there are times when Pink Mountain also sounds more like the weirder kin of Dead Meadow or Comets on Fire. This isn’t an accident either, as members have also served time with Built to Spill, Tom Waits, Elliott Smith, and Damon and Naomi. There are genuinely memorable melodies woven in with the experimentation, and this serves as a surprising and pleasant levity to the heaviness of the rest of the album. Following the album’s opening burst of noise is the title track, a gritty bass-driven jam featuring Quasi’s Sam Coomes on vox. The lyrics are negligible and there are more instrumentals than vocal-supported songs here, but Coomes generally acquits himself well.

It’s a challenging album, one that sounds cluttered and long-winded on cursory listening attempts. But for anyone with even a modicum of patience to return (and especially those who fetch the beautiful limited-edition hard copy of 500 double gatefold LPs), the rewards are there. The chaos is no accident, and the band has even declared that “no jamming was undertaken in the making of this record.” Carefully constructed and optimally sequenced, this is a fine sophomore effort from five talented musicians and a mind-expanding surprise for anyone looking for “Pink Mountaintops” in their Rapidshare searches.

By Patrick Masterson

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