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Sunday, April 11, 2010

Black Mountain: In The Future


1) Stormy High; 2) Angels; 3) Tyrants; 4) Wucan; 5) Stay Free; 6) Queens Will Play; 7) Evil Ways; 8) Wild Wind; 9) Bright Lights; 10) Night Walks; 11*) Bastards Of Light; 12*) Thirteen Walls; 13*) Black Cat.

We here on Planet Earth are a continually bored race, one that, for reasons unknown and fiercely disputed, has been gi­ven the possibility of expanding our minds beyond the bare concept of species preservation and reproduction — and has discovered, much to its own frustration, that there really are no objects in this world worthy of the application of these expanded minds. So we have invented ourselves this thing called «A-R-T» to play around with — extracting previously non-existent sounds, images, and word combinations out of our swollen consciences, feeding our neighbours with the stuff and imagining that we are doing a great service to the Universe, even though there is not the slightest bit of evidence that the Universe actually gives a shit about it.

These thoughts may not only be banal, but also off target — yet, for some reason, I never stum­bled upon them when listening to Black Mountain's influences, from Jefferson Airplane to Hawk­wind, and here, well, they have pursued me throughout the entire seventy two minutes of In The Future. Can we call In The Future a boring imitation of a bunch of idols? But if we did, would that be interesting? Wouldn't it be more interesting to come back to the record for a second, third, fifty-fifth time, so that the gist of Black Mountain's contribution to humanity can be stated clearly and transparently? Paradoxically, the more derivative someone's art is, the more you have to think about it — the more justification it may require.

The reference to Hawkwind, by the way, was not off the cuff. In The Future justifies its title by giving us a spacier, sci-fi-er picture than the debut album, with more emphasis on trippy studio effects, Mellotrons, astral lyrics, and even the sleeve cover. Like before, Black Mountain do not hide behind a wall of metaphors — the album is called In The Future, and they actually sing about the future. This is honest. The downside is, of course, that they are not doing anything that has not already been done in the past. But we can downplay that, can't we?

I wish I could rave and rant about how the opening crunchy riff of 'Stormy High' blows my mind to tiny smithereens, smothers them in the fat sizzling oil of the Mellotrons and feeds them back to me on the acoustic waves of the band's terrifying choir of Valkyries. I cannot; this kind of rant should be left to intelligent, but ignorant fourteen-year-old nerds for whom Black Mountain is the default gateway to parallel worlds. But that does not mean — repeat, does not mean — that 'Stor­my High' is a bad, boring, or completely wasted rocker. On the contrary, I like it a lot, like I do pretty much every song on here. I simply find no meaningful or interesting way to describe its artistic ambitions. There's, uh, a thunderstorm brewing. Or something. Who cares?

You have to brace yourself for a lot of long songs — for leaden stoner riffs alternating with astral keyboard solos, for walls-of-sound alternating with quiet minimalistic drums-and-bass passages, for heaps of noise materializing into Grateful Dead-like jams and dissipating back into heaps of noise; for poppy verses and choruses mutating into nauseating repetitive mantras; for Fairport Convention and Black Sabbath sharing the same kennel. Puzzled you will be; bored, no.

Pretty much all of this can be found in the 16 minutes of 'Bright Lights', whose many different sections recall the grotesque, flipped out whatever-rock of Amon Düül II, except less technical. Let me quote Thom Jurek of the All-Music Guide on that: "Fuzzy electrics, shimmering acoustics, and trance-like keyboards flit in and out between the alternating vocals of McBean and Webber. The music picks up intensity, shifts direction numerous times, and careens across the rock and folkscapes of rock's history from the late '60s through the '70s with great focus, wit, and am­bition." Perfect description. The only aspect of this that Mr. Jurek has politely swept under the carpet is: WHAT'S THE POINT? If we want to careen across the rock and folkscapes of rock's his­tory, why not go straight to the source?

To understand why, let us take one of the album's best songs, 'Wucan'. We know the vibe; similar musi­cal landscapes of astral travel have been laid down by Pink Floyd, Hawkwind and their col­leagues and followers in a thick layer. But we do not know the hook — a morose, Eastern-soun­ding organ riff interweaving with an anthemic art-rock guitar riff. It is a good, strong, memorable hook that neither Hawkwind nor Pink Floyd could have fathered (the former would have drowned it behind a wall of distortion and other instruments, the latter did not much care for repetitive gui­tar riffs like these in the first place). Is it «Trademark Black Mountain Sound»? No; these guys have no real trademarks to call their own. But it is a cool sound that they arrived at under the in­fluence, but through their own free will.

The same goes for everything else. There are no rip-offs. There is no deep meaning, there is little adequacy — they make big, bold, bright statements that have no independent value and can only be relevant to those having, up till now, lived in a vacuum; but there is juicy music made here, with talent to burn and pleasures to reap. I like the cooky falsetto on 'Stay Free', the tired"Lay your halo down..." on 'Angels', the big ugly drumming and the good old «woman tone» on 'Evil Ways', I even like all the sixteen minutes of 'Bright Lights'. If they were to tell me that they are making A-R-T here, I would say that I'd be more interested in seeing them fuck a porcupine. But if they are simply having a good futuristic time, more power to them, because I have had a good futuristic time, too. And, although this time around my poor wrecked brain is leading a desperate fight to award the album a thumbs down — simply because it has tried to say so much about it and ended up say­ing so little — the heart holds the day. Thumbs up. Frankly, if they make three dozen more records like this, I won't be disappointed. Don't make the mistake of trying to think about this album, like I did. Feel positive.


  1. I agree, I just listened to this album and it doesn't sound very original or unique to me.

  2. Okay, as much as I must admit Black Mountain aren't the peak of originality, I love this record. I have actually listened to it over a hunnert times, which is more than I can say for almost anyone else (except Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros and Dead Man's Bones) but you are wrong. Listen to "Wucan" a perfect song, it's actually real and it wants to love you down like a good lovin' song should. Then there's "Stormy High" and etc...I think "In the Future" is the best album of the Oughts, and who am I to say that? No one at all! But it's better than Animal Collective's entire discography, and the only song by Midlake worth a fuck is "Roscoe," so you with it as you will. I also love the Pink Mountaintops. I guess Stephen McBean is a great new world prophet and musical guru and it really is better than most of the junk they play us, so give some love to Black Mountain and love it for who and what it is. Wucan is a truly great song and yes, we can get together.