Release Date: Sep 14, 2010
Record label: Jagjaguwar
Genre(s): Pop/Rock, Alternative/Indie Rock, Alternative Pop/Rock
I guess there’s a time for prayer or meditation and then there’s a time for pure instinct. While I wouldn’t say that Wilderness Heart, the latest album from neo-psych jammers, Black Mountain, is devoid of any cerebral components, it’s tightly wound and built for ignition, psych riffs or musical digressions be damned. As Black Mountain storms through songs like Old Fangs and Let Spirits Ride, an album like Wilderness Heart seems necessary in today’s independent landscape when the airwaves prove rotten and indie labels mostly cultivate lo-fi, noise pop and little else.
With an album cover that sports a shark flying into an office building, Black Mountain is making a statement to which you better be paying attention. The Canadian quartet’s third release is different than its earlier material and like the album’s cover, the music has evolved to the point where you have no choice but to take heed. Though the sound varies from song to song, “Old Fangs” showcases Black Mountain’s familiar formula with hard riffs, a driving bass and haunting space synths that compliment Stephen McBean’s booming vocals and Amber Webber’s smooth voice.
Canada's best psych rock band, Black Mountain, took a number of risks with their new album, and they've largely paid off. The Vancouver five-piece forwent self-production in favour of outside assistance from not one but two producers, L.A.'s D. Sardy (Nine Inch Nails, Spoon, LCD Soundsystem) and Seattle's Randall Dunn (Sunn O))), Earth). The L.A.
If there's one thing we learned from the last few "proper" Guided By Voices albums, it's that some bands shouldn't cut their eccentricities and play it straight. Too often the bands that are best when they're untethered don't find sharp new sounds with precision but rather a soft, claustrophobic middle that squeezes out their charms and strengths. So you'd be forgiven for being skeptical of a Black Mountain record that aims at precision, especially when 2008's excellent In the Future was about as wide open as a record gets.
"Is it safe for the cowards to do what they've already done?" It's a rhetorical question, of course, but coming from the well-bearded mouth of Stephen McBean, the sentiment is especially pointed. For in his 10-plus years of making music, McBean has never been one to retrace his steps, venturing outward from the dirgey folk-rock of Jerk With a Bomb to the ever mercurial noise-pop of Pink Mountaintops and the earthquaking boogie of his most successful outfit to date, Black Mountain. But even the popular perception of Black Mountain as 1970s-style riff-mongers is unfairly myopic, with the seeming anomalies in their discography-- the carefree jangle pop of "No Satisfaction", the hypno-drone trance of "No Hits", or the raised-lighter sing-along "Stay Free"-- proving just as prevalent as the Black Sabbath worship.
An unmistakable whiff — deliberate or otherwise — of butt-rock announces the arrival of Wilderness Heart, Black Mountain’s third album. With a song title like “The Hair Song,” likely a knowing reference to a deservedly maligned sub-genre, Black Mountain come perilously close to contemporary rock radio tedium, with a riff that owes as much to Zeppelin as it does Days Of The fucking New. Any hesitation or suspicion dissipates quickly enough, once prolific, perennial front man Stephen McBean breaks into a refrain of “Bang, bang the drum/ Children having their fun with the blues.
Black Mountain's 2008 album In the Future was a spectacle drenched in vintage and prog rock bombast that made its title seem ironic. BM's sound owes more than a modicum of debt to big rock's storied past, and on Wilderness Heart they still lean heavily on many of those influences, but have focused and tightened them into a classic rock-sounding vehicle that is more their own animal than someone else's. For starters, they employed outside producers -- D.
Looking back for the way forward On 2008’s In The Future, Black Mountain built a muscle car of an album that woke up the whole block as it tore out of the driveway, but followup Wilderness Heart is more a loose assortment of chrome and steel. In the wake of their creative breakthrough, the band has opted to emulate the classics rather than fine-tune their own sound: “Radiant Hearts,” a love ballad with the opening line “Children play softly around the explosions,” invokes the end-times folk of Jethro Tull, while “Rollercoaster”—all psychedelic sludge and cymbal crashes—is pure Led Zeppelin. Taken individually, the songs are beefy enough to satisfy stoner-rock munchies, but as an album, Heart is hardly cohesive.
For the last decade, lovers of hard rock and metal faced an interesting conundrum. Musically, the bands that emerged throughout that decade were phenomenally accomplished, building on 50 years of musical evolution in rock and metal. However, the vocals of many of these bands were a major obstacle to overcome for listeners. Just imagine hearing a three-minute symphony, then hearing the stereotypical Cookie Monster or dentist drill vocal delivery barge in like a drunken tailgater.
The video for the splendidly-titled ‘Hair Song’, Wilderness Heart’s opener and Black Mountain’s latest statement of nostalgic intent, is a weird one. And not just because the whole Canadian-band-meets-forest-setting thing it hinges on is reminiscent of nothing so much as Bryan Adams’ ‘(Everything I do) I Do It For You’ video. No, it’s the cocktail of Almost Famous-style hippie-fringes‘n’guitars imagery, of Eighties skateboarding movies, of unambiguously Noughties settings and equipment, alongside flashes of a rather self-conscious wistfulness (for its lovely female protagonist with lovely hair still buys her records on vinyl, see) that’s most disconcerting.
Expertly blends heavy rock and smoky blues across tantalisingly layered songs. Brad Barrett 2010 Black Mountain's third album represents the finest yield so far from the Vancouver band’s relentless harvesting of rock and folk's 70s heyday. Wilderness Heart refuses to dive into unfamiliar territory, instead expertly blending heavy rock, smoky blues and finger-picked acoustic guitars across an album of tantalisingly layered songs.