Let’s smoke some kill,
And get outta this place. (Faulty Times)
This is why I love that beast called rock: every time I find myself sitting around wishing all the bands I used to love so much from the 70’s and 80’s would JUST STOP MAKING MUSIC NOW (please!) and not liking anything new very much either, along comes something cool and new to enthuse me and grant me faith again. Black Mountain was one such, the 2005 debut LP by the Vancouver rockers lifted me up again into a state of grace in only 8 songs.
I bought Black Mountain on spec in 2005, having heard they were great from multiple sources and I wasn’t disappointed by the austere-looking LP that dropped onto my welcome mat a few days later. I knew they were rockers and the cover just put me in mind of Sabbath and so I was clunked sideways slightly when I dropped the needle for the first time on ‘Modern Music’ and was greeted by a sax skronk from Masa Anzai*. The opener is a slightly camp, over-caffeinated take on the Velvet Underground/Roxy Music/The Modern Lovers, it is brilliant hearing Stephen McBean sighing and cooing his way through the chaos. Not what I expected.
You can tell ‘Don’t Run Our Hearts Around’ is an epic** from the opening drum beats and over the next 6 minutes it just takes us all the way from way way way down here, to way way way up there. The musicianship is jaw-droppingly/breakingly good. The only resemblance to Iomni’s mob is the sense that these are players who can change speed/rhythms at the drop of a heartbeat and in the masterful use of dynamics. The chords swirl and churn and the twin vocals of McBean and Amber Webber are used to great effect and odd harmonics and spacey moments abound.
Just to prove I’m not on Black Mountain’s payroll^ I really don’t rate ‘Druganaut’, which is a slightly forgettable perky jam that just wastes a brilliant title; it doesn’t convince when it gets heavy, or when it just lopes along beforehand. Ah well.
Hark! Can I really hear a recorder playing on the VU-gasm that is ‘No Satisfaction’? I freaking hope so^^. You want a slice of perfection, then you got it right here. Black Mountain, the LP and the band, conjure the anything-goes the-only-logic-that-matters-is-internal-logic, halcyon days of 70’s experimental rock not by aping it slavishly but my forging ahead in a spirit of purely joyous exploration. It really does sound like a long-lost gem.
By what happened.
Let’s light up your down,
And get things happening.
We can’t get no satisfaction,
We can’t get no satisfaction
Best of all ‘Set Us Free’ is next, a disquieting epic where you can hear the band restraining themselves from rocking out over the top, the better to convey the mood and portentous menace of the song. It walks that line so well trodden by Bob Dylan, a pathway littered with bums, killers and portents circa-Blood On The Tracks; all the better to twang our twizzlies. I find it a really emotional listen and that’s saying something, as the bulk of my feelings calcified, atrophied and fell off some time ago.
And that’s just the first sodding side! ‘No Hits’ kicks off the second side, a numb drawl over a beat that is ever in danger of becoming a disco stomper, or at least it would if it wasn’t for some great guitaring, phaser noises and unruly sax that Hawkwind in their pomp would have been proud of; Webber makes a great ice queen on this one. Black Mountain go full Pink Floyd on the ‘Heart of Snow’, unleashing minor chords of such effect that I pray they never find their way into the wrong hands and get weaponised. ‘Heart …’ also contains the band’s wildest guitar moments, the effect of them being like surfacing through snow.
I find the LP closer ‘Faulty Times’ another disconcerting epic, it is uneasy and off kilter, McBean railing against war and suchlike over a musical framework that sounds like it is about to collapse under its’ own weight at any second. I rather like the organ-driven climax^* but it ain’t the best track here.
Black Mountain was a rare, invigorating treat when I first heard it and it still is today. In terms of the band’s own work it has only been topped by their 2016 album IV*^, in my not so humble opinion. All my favourite shaggy-haired tropes are to be found in this music, but the band mess with the usual stoner formula so completely that they really do climb the peaks. Thanks rock!
PS: Warning: The attached video may have Canadians in it, doing Canadian things, in Canada.
PPS: Minor grizzle, I totally appreciate it is usually for budget reasons, but it is a pet hate of mine just getting a CD booklet stuffed into the album – especially an album as good as Black Mountain is. Make it full-sized folks.
*of Bison fame.
**a genuine one, not just a track striving for epicalitiness that could do with a damned good editing.
^although, I am seriously open to offers guys.
^^if you know it isn’t then please just leave me in my sense of blissful ignorance.
^*come on, who doesn’t dig one of those!
*^which I sort of forgot to include on my Top 10 best albums of 2016 … oops.