Black Mountain

Black Mountain

(Jagjaguwar; 2005)

By Dom Sinacola | 27 March 2005

Do you remember Jerk With a Bomb? C’mon: Pyrokinesis (2003) and The Old Noise (2001)? On Scratch Records? Proto-country, vulgar cutesiness? Nothing? Yeah, me neither.

How about the Pink Mountaintops? Their self-titled debut--as full of as much slippery sleaze as its doo-wop guitars could provide--amounted to nothing more than a pedantic “fit Rod A into Slot B” affair, dragged moping out of the ‘60s. If you’re struggling to conjure up an inkling of this 2004 bore, I suggest you stop. It’s not worth the energy needed to furrow your brow.

Stephen McBean, master bongadier behind JWAB and PM, now offers the next mutation of his Black Mountain Army collective, the nominally downhome “Black Mountain.” But don’t be fooled by the name: Black Mountain is not the crunchier, gothic areola of PM’s solipsistic nipple. Both formations are repetitive, sloppy, and simplistic. “Too harsh!” you scream, in between arguments that such adjectives don’t, in themselves, condemn an album or an artist’s oeuvre. “Whatever,” I slur back, having had to listen to this thing the whole way through.

Black Mountain’s “debut” peddles a palette of '60s and '70s “classic rock” standards from Springsteen to Sabbath, the Velvet Underground, the Stones, Pink Floyd, and even Zeppelin, give or take a myriad of etceteras. Albums built on admiration, homage, and even worship can be tolerable and, if done right, perfectly pleasurable experiences (see Dungen's terrific Ta Det Lugnt). When the indebted band goes so far as to rip off skins and attempt to slip into them like they’re wretched footy pajamas, on the other hand, things are a little less fun. Deities are flattened, sucked dry, and presented in watery prog-skeletons. The Greats, so familiar here, are siphoned through tin straws.

“Modern Music,” for example, begins with a whimsically atonal sax swoop from Vancouverite Masa Anzai. It could be said that “the band works woozily through surf guitar and working-class harmonies in order to allow Anzai’s brass to deconstruct the ‘Pop Explosion’ (note capitals) of the Boss’s U.S.A. Birth.” But this critic will give his readers some credit.

While it is true that vocalist Amber Webber provides a perfect and enormously pleasant, even unexpected, counterpart to McBean’s strictly Vedder-ish scowl, “Modern Music’s” blueprint and impetus hold too true in the seven cuts that follow. Through all eight songs, curdled riffage is crusted by mimicking cymbals, only to drop out for muddy sixteenth-notes on the snare; electronics don’t doodle or dip so much as just drone; McBean has two gears: moaning and drunk; bereft of vocal melody, rhythm sections consist primarily of two to three notes, rarely abandoning the key of the previous track; each arrangement builds and pieces with the pace of a shoegazer epic and the deftness of Jimmy Eat World’s twenty-minute “Goodbye Sky Harbor.”

Do you remember “Goodbye Sky Harbor?” Over fifteen parts and each one as predictable, logical, and deviant as a Dennis Miller monologue?

Black Mountain is equally, if not more, frustrating because the musicians that hump about inside the smarmy collective actually seem to be truly able players. “No Hits” zips from the first second with a heavy, simple pulse, lilting hand claps, and an insectoid bass line. Cotton synths open the floor for a mournful chorus, which then swarms and recedes in order for Jeremy Schmidt’s typical percussion to dance thinly along nebulous electro-rubble and more shambling sax. And then it starts all over again, verbatim. The instrumental variety is refreshing, and the careful architecture of each track, masked by a lazy veneer, really does embody some of the ethos of the innumerable bands BM attempts to revere. But Black Mountain never comes close to the transcendence of their Fathers. Wallowing too easily in stale patterns, the band extends interesting ideas into their flailing, flat extremes. Even the handclaps of “Hits” noticeably lose their firmness, scattering and tripping off-beat before the-ugh-seven minutes are up.

Simply put, Black Mountain is as mundane, bleak, and hollow as the cover art would suggest; as Pink Mountaintops’s cover art would suggest; as PM’s tragic cover of Joy Division would predict in a sophomore lo-fi tribute to an already failed milieu of kitsch. We are only left to hope that Fuchsia Landslide will really unleash the funk with a Prince cover. Watch out, ‘80s, Stephen McBean just might care enough about you to lift an eyebrow.