It’s a bit of a twofer this month. For the first time in a while, I’m really enjoying the Rough Trade Album of the month. So, noticing that the featured artist was playing down the road from me, I decided to go “double or quits”.
I’ve been following Black Mountain for around ten years ago. Their self titled debut was a personal fave at the time. I enjoyed the follow up “In The Future” but (and I’m not sure why) didn’t pick up their third LP.
I was somewhat chuffed therefore to have their new album “IV” land on our doormat. There are a few antecedents for fourth albums named “IV” with Led Zeppelin and Black Sabbath particularly relevant to Black Mountain. If you are going to take a leaf out of the rock behemoth’s book, well, you better follow through with the goods.
The band hail from Vancouver. The members keep their hand in with many side projects when not working together. Until now the biggest dent that they’ve made in the British mainstream consciousness is the use of side project Pink Mountaintops’ “Can You Do That Dance?” in a Becks advert.
“IV” is immediately engaging. The band have a reputation for “stoner rock”. This suggests that their material is lazy and meandering. Whilst the songs on the album do have space to breath, the music is allowed to stretch out in ways that evokes seventies classic rock. The closing track “Space To Bakersfield” is ten minutes long and could easily sit on those classic run of Pink Floyd albums from “Meddle” through to “Wish You Were Here”. This and the opening track, “Mothers Of The Sun” bookend the album perfectly as long form workouts. Starting with an electronic pulse and a hint of a dirty fuzzy riff, Amber Webber picks up the vocal initially, before Stephen McBean joins in. Three and a half minutes of ominous building later, the riff is back in full effect – heady stuff.
There is more direct material in between. The punningly fantastic named “Florian Saucer Attack” has a driving motorik rhythm. “Constellations” and “Defector” are tight and funky, a skill that the band have long been able to handle going back to “Druganaut” from their debut LP. “Crucify Me” has the kind of stark desolation captured on Big Star’s “3rd/Sister Lovers” in tracks like “Stroke It Noel”, “For You” and “O Dana”.
The band’s label, Jagjaguwar, have done a sterling job with the whole package. Coming in orange vinyl, the sleeve is gorgeous nod to classic sleeves of Hipgnosis from the 70s.
The bonus material is a CD of demo versions for the album. “Mothers Of The Sun” is an guitar-less electronic take on the finished version, omitting the “Black Dog” like riff. Amber Webber’s acoustic “Line Them All Up” is beautiful. It all makes for an interesting companion piece to the album.
I’m really enjoying listening to “IV”. There have been a couple of recent amateur hour productions from Rough Trade and it is good for the momentum created by Sunflower Bean to have been maintained by Black Mountain. This is a skilful band and whilst they wear their influences on their sleeves (quite literally as far as the cover art goes), the whole is greater than the sum of the parts.
Fair play to Rough Trade too. They have replaced “The Fold”, which was a one sided info sheet on their top ten albums of a given month with a fully fledged “Rough Trade Magazine”. It truly is a thing of beauty with great production values and interesting subject matter to boot. It doesn’t look cheap and it would be fantastic if it was published to sit alongside the Album Of The Month. Fingers crossed.
On to the Electric Ballroom then. The audience was a curious mix from hipsters to an altogether older punter who were well and truly embracing the space and progressive rock elements of the band’s sound. I think there may have been a few Hawkwind t-shirts on display if you looked closely.
The setlist drew heavily on “IV” with the first two tracks matching the LP. In fact, the first half of the show really rattled along. Unfortunately the show sagged a little towards the end. The light show was mostly from behind the band, so there was little potential for eye contact with the audience. Combining this with the impressively long hair and lack of interaction with the audience proved a little wearing. The classic bands that obviously influenced Black Mountain had an element of theatricality or presence that was lacking. It can’t be a lack of confidence or experience. The band are clearly very adept at what they have been doing this for a while now. It is just the way they are and for the more casual fan, it is to the detriment of their skills.
That said, I’m glad I went and I’m especially pleased to have the LP. I think it is going to get a few repeat plays through the year.