There is no simple life, and these are not simple times. The mythical days of clearer heads, of moral certainty, and of men and women acting with resolute spirit are behind us (if those times ever existed). Black Mountain, from Vancouver, British Columbia, write, perform and record music that speaks (and sings) to this realization: that solutions are rarely simple, that the world is as complex as it is ambiguous, and that music sprinkled with an inoculating dose of madness may well be the Pied Piper that takes us all back into the primordial mountain, where our hearts can be made steady and our minds can be set free.
Black Mountain is Matthew Camirand, Stephen McBean, Jeremy Schmidt, Amber Webber and Joshua Wells. Their debut self-titled record, like a space probe built of erector set parts and transmitting secret and arcane messages to earth by string, charts territories unknown yet remains grounded by the roots of classic rock and roll. It is easy to discern these roots: Black Sabbath, the Velvet Underground, the Rolling Stones, Animals-era Pink Floyd, Blue Cheer, Led Zeppelin and Can. Stephen McBean’s vocals are a smoother, bluesier amalgam of the voices of Neil Young, Mick Jagger and perhaps a James Brown loaded on cough syrup. Amber Webber’s vocals are something other-worldly and, by itself, almost incomparable. When their voices intertwine, the combination brings to mind the potency and chemistry of Richard and Linda Thompson singing together on Shoot Out The Lights, or of Meat Loaf and Ellen Foley howling together on Bat Out Of Hell.
Musical comparisons aside, the Black Mountain full-length is one part protest song, one part pop-cultural commentary, and one part sick-groove-rock casserole peppered with mesmerizing ballads and intoxicating ditties. « Modern Music » is the lead-off hitter and counts its way to the imposing and riff-rife « Don’t Run Our Hearts Around ». Immediately thereafter, the sludge-rock masterpiece « Druganaut » establishes the fecund heart and tone of the record. And just when you think that things can’t get any better, the songs « No Hits » and « Heart of Snow » are injected into your consciousness, clearly demonstrating that this band has no creative bounds.
Four of the five members of Black Mountain work as social workers in Vancouver’s Downtown East Side. Much like the similarly-named Black Mountain College of artists, poets and musicians who felt that a strong liberal education had to be holistic — happening inside and outside the classroom and not removed from a communal setting — the members of Black Mountain feel that their art and their music and the problems of the real world, which they experience daily in their working life, cannot be made distinct from one another. If « the personal is political » — a persevering and still resonant slogan of the women’s movement of the 1960’s — then, regardless of the level of their lyrical or visual specificity, art and music are always political. The Black Mountain record demonstrates this with flying colors. The music contained therein contributes to a belief that is an essential first step in making the world a less crazy place: madness is not a contagion that can be simply amputated. Madness is an intrinsic part of all of us, an indelible part of the fiber of our being.
Black Mountain are also five good friends who affectionately consider themselves as part of the Black Mountain Army, a loosely defined family of friends in the Vancouver area who endeavor to have good times while collaborating on art and music. The five of them are former or present members of The Pink Mountaintops, Blood Meridian, Jerk With A Bomb, the Black Halos, Dream On Dreary, Sinoia Caves, and Orphan. Black Mountain’s debut full-length was recorded in the winter and spring of 2004 at the Argyle Hotel and The Hive by Colin Stewart and Black Mountain. A video by Heather Trawick of the song « Druganaut » is included on the CD version of the record. Black Mounta