In the Future
As I write this, I’m combing eBay for a ‘79 Camaro with T-tops in cherry bomb red. The thunder and fury of Black Mountain’s “Wucan,” off their latest full-length, In the Future, can’t be blasting out of no Saturn – my current ride. Nor can album opener “Stormy High” or the Wiccan séance of “Bright Lights.” The entire album weaves a tapestry of bong-soaked proto-prog that calls for hunting boots, not house shoes. Lead Mountain Stephen McBean has dabbled in a folksy, indoor sound on his alter ego Pink Mountain Tops, which is the flip side to this dark sided moon.
Even the first Black Mountain album clung to a quirkier indie-pop sound. McBean’s vocals were cheekier and had a boozy loopiness that was light and disarming. But indie has long threatened to go classic rock, and anyone willing to psycho-analyze opener “Modern Music,” on Black Mountain’s self-titled debut, could tell that the statement, “I can’t stand all your modern music,” slurred over a clamoring beat and squanking, bizarro world Louis Jordan dance saxophone was just a prequel to the heavy-riffing coda that represented the band’s ultimate direction.
So here we are, In the Future, and the band is hurling slabs of Deep Purple, Pink Floyd soundscapes and Jefferson Airplane vocal vibrations to melt your eardrums. Where Black Mountain was a schizophrenic collage of disjointed – if slightly more memorable – tunes bearing the mark of the Velvet Underground in its slop, Neil Young in its folk, and even Pavement in McBean’s yelp and ramshackle arrangements, In the Future takes a more coherent and assertive approach. In the Future tracks straight to the proto-metal heart of darkness they were too timid to enter the first time around. The confidence shows. “Stormy High” whisks you up in its menacing riff that ascends like a winged beast carrying you up to its dark tower before crashing down on a galloping beat that propels you into “Angels,” a Tom Petty style nugget that shimmers among the sludge.
Jeremy Schmidt’s spacey synthesizers that made “No Hits” a highlight of Black Mountain muscle for greater prominence on In the Future. Schmidt dumps in fistfuls of Traffic organ swirls (“Evil Ways”) and Pink Floyd synthesizer flares that break up McBean’s newly muscular guitar riffage so that songs that clock in at 16 minutes plus (“Bright Lights”) hold up to repeat listens.
If Black Mountain really have entered the heart of darkness on In the Future, then it makes sense that some of the impishness is gone from McBean’s voice. Amber Webber, the group’s other vocalist, has a haunting, Grace Slick vibrato, but her pipes are best when used as an ambient instrument, as on the spirited opener “Stormy High.” The songs where she sings lead vocal are, again, flat: “Queens Will Play” and “Night Walks”, just as they were on Black Mountain.
McBean’s guitar playing is so sure footed that I assumed the band had added a second guitarist. Not so. McBean commands his guitar this time out, avoiding any self-aware sloppiness and cutting straight to the essence of some defiantly retro power chords. The compositions are like the primal id of the Mars Volta cut away from their circus-esque pomp.
Some may miss the playfulness of Black Mountain – nothing here is as fun as “Modern Music” or the alternating funk/rock of “Druganaut” – but others will appreciate the singular purpose this time out. In the Future finds Black Mountain at their tightest and most purposeful, but they’re known to get a little ADHD with their sound, so it’s hard to say if this is the direction the band will continue to move in. Just in case, I’ll have my Camaro ready for the next album.