Published on January 21st, 2008 | by Hans Fruck0
Black Mountain — In the Future
The self-titled debut album of Canadian five-piece Black Mountain was one of 2005’s neglected gems. Their follow-up, the diamond-sharp supermodel-beautiful In the Future, marks them as one of the best bands on this ball of rock and thawing ice, and marks frontman and songwriter Stephen McBean as a god among men.
For those who care about this sort of thing, you could play Spot The Influence, identifying echoes of Black Sabbath, Pink Floyd, Led Zeppelin, and who-knows-what-else on In the Future. Of course, you could just forget that stuff and treat your ears to the first masterpiece of 2008. It’s that good.
Black Mountain’s songs remain as unpredictable and interesting as ever. Just like Don’t Run Our Hearts Around on their debut, the best Black Mountain songs on In the Future are big, baggy monsters bursting with more ideas than most bands fit onto an entire record. In particular, the 17-minute Bright Lights and the eight-minute Tyrants are multipart epics soaked with ambition and talent.
Take Tyrants, for example. It opens with a thumping guitar-and-drums intro that drops into a delicate McBean vocal. From there, the song slowly builds via lashings of ’80s-style synth, peaking with a mountain-levelling vocal from Amber Webber. Not satisfied with that, the song then shifts gear again, chugging into a huge bottom-heavy metal riff before – with predictable unpredictability – closing with a soft, plaintive vocal from McBean and Webber.
And that’s just one song.
If possible, the 17-minute Bright Lights is even more ambitious. Among other things, it works its way through quirky, must-read lyrics, grinding guitar riffs, funereal keyboards, and spooky-bleak reverb to a climax that’ll leave you spreadeagled on the floor, reaching for a cigarette, wondering what the fuck hit you.
The miraculous thing about both Tyrants and Bright Lights is how well they hang together. Their structures should feel tacked together. All those quicksilvery mid-song transitions shouldn’t feel organic. But thanks to McBean’s musical jujitsu, they do.
While Black Mountain’s fireworks are irresistible, they can dial it back when they want to. Stay Free, for instance, sees McBean teeter along the top of his vocal register in a laidback sing-along that recalls bassist Matt Camirand’s band, Blood Meridian (who put out a cracking album in 2006). Angels and Wild Wind both sound like lazy-day reveries, despite their dark lyrics. A similar dynamic is at play among the rest of the songs: for all the references to witches, demons, hounds and hell, the overall effect of In the Future is too electrifying and gorgeous to be downbeat.
The closing track, Night Walks, sees Webber’s subdued, reverb-drenched vocals laid over synth. It’s simple and poignant, and a little reminiscent of Hope Sandoval. Of the other songs, there’s the loping beat of Queens Will Play; the thudding, catchy riffage of Stormy High; and the hypnotic science-fiction synth of Wucan, which nicely contrasts the vocals of Webber and McBean. In fact, many of the album’s tracks get immense mileage out of counterpointing their singing: her vibrato pulsates with urgency and drama, while his laidback drawl means songs don’t get overwrought.
Inevitably, some will dismiss Black Mountain as copyists, rank imitators of more-illustrious predecessors (cue Wolfmother debate), but fuck the High Priests of Musical Authenticity. Art always has precursors – it’s usually an act of recombination or adaptation. Accordingly, Black Mountain’s magic is in how they marry together the familiar – sludgy guitars, reverb, overlapping vocals, harmonies, and everything else in their bottomless bag of tricks – in unexpected ways and to glorious effect.
Perhaps this is just the euphoric first blush of love, I dunno… But right now, In the Future sounds like the best thing I’ve heard in years.