Archive for Black Mountain

On Black Mountain’s “IV”, The Unexpected Ingredient Is Sincerity

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , on April 12, 2016 by johnbuckley100

Since Black Mountain’s eponymous debut in 2005, followed one year later by Pink Mountaintops’ maiden voyage, we’ve viewed both of Stephen McBean’s vehicles as tandem expressions of his already heterodox talents.  The influences on his songwriting apparent early on included Modern Dance-era Pere Ubu, New York’s No Wave bands, and when he and Amber Weber sang a duet on “Druganaut,” it sounded much more like Sly and The Family Stone than X, which was interesting.  The homages to Led Zeppelin, the cheesy Deep Purple keyboards, the clear reference to Station To Station-era Bowie: it soon all added up to a dazzling porridge, heavy and melodic at the same time, with deadly seriousness offset by antic glimpses.  Black Mountain could — and on the great Wilderness Heart did — play proto-metal and punk, back to back.  And with other band members launching such disparate vehicles as Lightning Dust and Blood Meridien, the Black Mountain Army was seemingly as potent a force in modern music as the Elephant Six Collective.

But even with certain surface charms, 2014’s Pink Mountaintops album, Get Back, was a turnoff.  Suddenly it triggered, at least in Tulip Frenzy’s World HQ, a reassessment, as it rendered McBean’s magpie plucking of influences suspect.  We wondered who the real McBean was: the distant bandleader launching his attack from Vancouver, or one more cool cat taking on the world from L.A.?  With only their fourth album in 11 years, we now have the answer, at least from Black Mountain: IV is their best full album since they took their name from the large pile of Afghani sitting on the table in front of them.

Even their naming convention is a reminder of the influence of Zep, but on IV, the seemingly biggest influences on McBean and company is their own prior work, as a band and an aggregation of the sister bands.  “You Can Dream” sounds like something Lightning Dust would play at Edinburgh Castle.  The opener, “Mothers Of The Sun,” is their best long-form construction since “Bastards Of Light.”  The combination of McBean and Weber has never sounded stronger, and on a song like “Constellations,” you have all of Black Mountain’s charms in one interplanetary locus.  After the last ersatz and kitschy Pink Mountaintops outing, McBean returns with something that sounds, dare we say it, sincere.

All is forgiven.  Black Mountain’s fourth record is their best yet.

Pink Mountaintops’ “Get Back” Reveals More of Stephen McBean’s Multiple Personalities

Posted in Music with tags , , , , on May 1, 2014 by johnbuckley100

In the early years of Black Mountain and Pink Mountaintops, the meme developed that the latter band was an “alternative side” of Stephen McBean’s personality.  In retrospect, that’s a little hard to figure, or it is at least a little simplistic. Stephen McBean is such a protean figure that his constant alternatives to his last invocation could rapidly resemble a hall of mirrors.

And anyway, are the two bands, the two… aspects… of McBean’s songwriting, singing, and most excellent guitar playing, really so different? Let’s rewind to the beginning. Pink Mountaintops’ brilliant 2006 album Axis of Evol could easily be seen as coming from a similar sensibility as, say, Black Mountain circa its first record or the Druganaut E.P.  “Cold Criminals” sounded like it was the product of someone who’d spent a lot of time listening to Pere Ubu’s The Modern Dance, while “Bicycle Man” was steeped in the No Wave sound of New York circa ’78.  Are those different sides?  So far away from one another?  Not really.

To us, McBean has always been one of the great dabblers, an ambitious throwback who could in the span of two years record one of the best Velvet Underground-sounding songs — Pink Mountaintops’ “The Gayest of Sunbeams” — and one of our favorite invocations of Led Zeppelin — Black Mountain’s “The Hair Song.” The only people who split the difference between Zep and the Velvets while in the same rough phase of their careers are those who, as the lyrics to the great Black Mountain song “Voices” would have it, have come down with the same bug all of us at Tulip Frenzy are riddled with: “Rock’n’roll voices on the radio/I’ve been in love with you since I was five years old.” He loves it all: all those rock’n’roll voices: Lou’s, and Bowie’s, and Robert Plant’s, and often in harmony with a singer as great as Amber Weber, which brings us to such pairings as Exene and John Doe and Sonny and Cher.

While his shambling, hippy-era countenance might give off a hash and patchouli perfume, leading you to think of McBean as a slacker, and while the pace of releases since 2005’s eponymous Black Mountain album might not seem like he breaks a sweat, the sheer volume of not just good, but thoroughly excellent music McBean’s been responsible for over the last nine years is pretty remarkable.  If his interest was simply in being a rock star, he probably would have helped corral the Black Mountain Army to keep pushing through in support of Wilderness Heart, which caused a stir in 2010.  But instead the band put out some new songs on the Year Zero film soundtrack, toured a bit, and did not sustain the momentum.  It’s easily recaptured, they’ve built a good following.  But McBean’s not interested, it seems, in such straight forward careerism.

Enter Pink Mountaintops’ Get Back, in which with an imposing posse behind him — J. Mascis on guitar, Daniel Allaire from Brian Jonestown Massacre on drums, Rob Barbato of Darker My Love on bass, etc. — McBean invokes everything from Station to Station-era Bowie to “All Along The Watchtower.”  Ensconced in Los Angeles these days, McBean continues a Canadian-style assault on greatness: low-key, humorous, thoroughly competent.

We think “Ambulance City” may be the most infectious rocker out this year, which is saying something since John Dwyers’ Thee Oh Sees have already released an album.  “Through All The Worry” sounds like something you wish Social Distortion was still putting out.  “Wheels” is the “All Along The Watchtower” analogue, though obviously invoking the Hendrix version.  Whether that’s Mascis or McBean on lead, we don’t know, but it is like sonic dental floss, cleaning out the cavity between our ears. We can see the members of Crocodiles smiling when they hear “Sell Your Soul,” one of those songs that makes you remember how mid-70s Bowie was so influenced by early Springsteen, he borrowed Roy Bittan to play piano. “North Hollywood Microwaves” is Not Safe For Driving With Children Or Spouses, an hilarious novelty.  By the time we get to the closer, “The Last Dance,” we’ve returned to mid-’70s pre-punk, to the Station To Station sound with which the album began.  It’s an impressive, Rockist tour de force.

How Get Back ultimately fits into McBean’s canon is unknowable at this time.  What we know is that his multiple personalities are given full vent, and that a figure whose bands have called to mind Deep Purple and Led Zeppelin, the Velvet Underground and Pere Ubu, and Bowie, always Bowie, is as well-rounded an artist as there exists today.  Selfishly, we can’t wait to see the set of characters McBean inhabits on the next slab of Black Mountain.

Pink Mountaintops “Ambulance City” Is Song Of The Year

Posted in Music with tags , , , , , , on April 26, 2014 by johnbuckley100

We have only to wait until Tuesday to get our mitts — our ears — our ear mitts? — on Pink Mountaintops’ Get Back.  But just from what’s been released so far, we know this is going to be one of the highlights of the year.  “Ambulance City” may be the finest rocker yet released by any unit of Stephen McBean’s Black Mountain Army — and represents a return of Pink Mountaintops to the upbeat rocking form present on 2006’s Axis of Evol, partly missing on 2009’s Outside Love.  Powered by Brian Jonestown Massacre nuclear instigator Daniel Allaire on drums, both “Ambulance City” and the hilarious “North Hollywood Microwaves” rock harder than anything we’ve yet heard from HQ-band Black Mountain, nor any of its lethal units, Blood Meridian, Lightning Dust, etc.  Tulip Frenzy thinks we will declare a holiday Tuesday, and just reach for our headphones.

The First Great Album Of 2014 Is Here: Sleepy Sun’s “Maui Tears”

Posted in Music with tags , , , , , on February 9, 2014 by johnbuckley100

If T.S Elliott had been a fan of rock’n’roll he would have rethought this “April is the cruelest month” thing.  By April, the record releases are coming fast and furious.  January’s a different matter.

Which is why it is so fantastic that on January 28, Sleepy Sun released Maui Tears, which has gotten us through, oh, all sorts of things: snow days and cold, avalanches of work, that feeling when you are midway through writing your fourth novel where it seems you are still deep underwater, legs kicking, trying to get to the surface before your lungs explode, all the while worrying about the bends.  Oh, okay, back to Sleepy Sun’s great new album.

For those not hip to the band, just go check out “Galaxy Punk.”  It kicks with the force of White Denim’s “Drug,” a perfect pop song but also a showcase for the kind of virtuoso guitar playing that just saws its way through soft brain matter.

Maui Tears is constructed along the blueprint specs that Stephen McBean used in Black Mountain’s Wilderness Heart: there’s tuneful, exciting, straight-ahead rock’n’roll (“The Lane”) followed by acoustic balladry you might have found on early Led Zep, and then immersion into the headphone imperatives of metal-psyche.  “Outside” is, for our money, a better version of MBV than anything found on m b v.  “11:32” is a mere 4:10 worthy of punk-metal goodness, and on “Thielbar” you can catch a whiff of Black Rebel Motorcycle exhaust and it smells like… victory.

We really like this album not simply because there’s not a lot of other great new music to listen to — at least not until Temples’ rec comes out on Tuesday.  We really like this album because it is amazing.

“Mary Lou” By Black Mountain Is A Free Slab O’ Greasy Boogie

Posted in Music with tags , , on February 18, 2012 by johnbuckley100

Thanks to the band and the good folks at Stereogum, everyone who’s been waitin’ fer Stephen McBean and Co. to return from the wilderness and deliver their next batch of forest-brewed riff rock need not delay a moment more before downloading “Mary Lou”.  Moreover, like The Clash in ’80, Black Mountain know you’re broke, so they are offering up “Mary Lou” for your pleasure for free.  And how is it? It is as gloriously ’70s retro as “Old Fang,” has harmonies that remind us of “Voices,” and takes its own sweet time just the way “Druganaut” did before Black Mountain, trying to help out their neighbors to the south, let that ‘un be used to sell Buicks, which really got that whole GM recovery thing started, leading to the economic recovery, the Obama reelection, and world peace and harmony. Picture us now, poised before our computer, waiting for the checkered flag to drop and the album Year Zero go on sale.  When?  Well, judging by how great “Mary Lou” is, it can’t be soon enough.

Tulip Frenzy’s #6 Best Album of 2010: Black Mountain’s “Wilderness Heart”

Posted in Music with tags , on November 30, 2010 by johnbuckley100

Black Mountain has come a long way since Stephen McBean allegedly named the band for the stash of Afghani piled high on the table in front of him.  While their early sound owed much to No Wave bands and Pere Ubu, and while McBean’s protean songwriting takes on so many shapes he has to channel different songs between Black Mountain and the Pink Mountaintops, what they’ve grown into is a classic, early ’70s album-rock band with strains of metal and folk and punk.  It’s a pretty great combination, and when Wilderness Heart was released Tulip Frenzy rejoiced.  We like the formula — Seconal riffs followed by Sandy Denny folk followed by real rock’n’roll — and we like McBean, who is shaping up to be one of the most interesting figures in rock.  We love Amber Webber’s ululations, and whether it’s pounding out riffs in Black Mountain, or plying the B.C. villages with the Canadian equivalent of Americana with their band Blood Meridian, we have a soft spot for the immensely talented Matt Camirand (bass) and Joshua Wells (drummer extraordinaire.)  The novelty of Jeremy Schmidt’s greasy organ riffs in no small part make the band, but since we weren’t Deep Purple fans the first time round, there’s no reason to start being one now.  Still, the way these guys can settle into a groove on stage, and he breadth of McBean’s talents, make us fear the next time we have an opportunity to see them will be in a venue far larger than the 930 Club.  We admire them, and wish them well, even as we fear we’re losing them.

Playing Catch Up: Black Angels/Black Mountain at 930, Sufjan at The Beacon, And Of Course Keef’s “Life”

Posted in Music with tags , , , , on November 17, 2010 by johnbuckley100

There is no truth to the rumor that Tulip Frenzy World HQ has been shut down whilst the gang finished Life.  It is however true that those moments not taken up by the vagaries and jaggedness of ends-meeting in the business world have, in part, been given over to the remarkably informative Keith Richards, whose autobiography is for the rock’n’roll set what Speak, Memory was to fans of Nabokov.

What have we learned from Life that we didn’t previously know?  The depth of Keith’s contempt for Brian Jones.  Exactly how his discovery of open tuning led to the great riffs of the ’70s.  How not just “Street Fighting Man” but also “Jumpin’ Jack Flash” was recorded with Keith on acoustic into a little cassette recorder, the tape of which played in the studio somehow gained its “electric” sound. How the title Exile on Main Street referred to the nautical ties between the Italian and French Riviera.  Let’s see, how innocent that Mars bar was.  The extent to which Britain’s policy on providing heroin to addicts led to Keith becoming one.  (And — who knew? — how they used to give out cocaine to heroin addicts to keep them from nodding off, thus providing Keef with access to the pure flake.)  So much more… An excellent book.  When you think about it, this has been an incredible year for Stones’ fans — starting with the 40th anniversary box of Ya-Yas, Ethan Russell’s great book of photos from the era, Let It Bleed, the Exile reissue with new songs, the release of Ladies and Gentlemen on DVD, and now Keith’s book.  Whew.  Best year since…’72?

We never posted about the excellent Black Angels/Black Mountain show at 930.  The Black Angels were pretty mindblowing.  Yes, it would take a fraction of a second for the Shazam algorithm-decoder to determine a song is by the Black Angels, as for the most part they all have the same number-of-words-in-a-lyric/number-of-beats-in-a-chorus formula.  But who knew that voice came out of a guy hidden between his beard and his hat?  Or that the drummer was a woman?  Or that the guitarist looked like he might have been playing for Big Brother and the Holding Company?  Or that over the course of the evening, four different people would play bass?  Black Mountain got into a groove — fascinating how all the songs from In The Future seemed to be on a loop.  They were tight to the point of metronomic regularity, but still exciting.  Amber Weber seemed to pick up strength as the set wore on.  Stephen McBean seemed downright frisky.  Methinks the next time Black Mountain come round these parts, they’ll be opening at the Verizon Center for some band you don’t really want to see… You know, the next rung up from headlining clubs.  We have mixed emotions about this, but do root for them, given their manifest excellence as musicians and sonic adventurers.

We read Jon Pareles’ review of the Sufjan Stevens shows at the Beacon and, having been there Sunday night, found ourselves for once not wanting to strangle the Chief Music Correspondent Of The New York Times, or whatever is the position of authority through which Pareles has for far too long helped destroy our enjoyment of music.  Though where Pareles sees Sufjan’s near-closing extravaganza of “Impossible Soul” as almost Lady Gaga-like — given its raw theatricality — another analogue came to our mind: we saw Max in Where The Wild Things Are, rumbling with those wild things and emerging with his crown askew.  Now we’ll admit, this was that rare show where what we most loved was what rocked the least — Sufjan as folky was far more interesting than Sufjan as David Byrne circa True Stories.  Although truth be told, one of the things most remarkable about Sufjan in his Age of Adz phase is precisely the extent to which he is sui generis, with no antecedents, not even himself.  I think that album would be better, and his music stronger, if he had the time, fortitude, and resources to construct his elaborate music around an orchestra — a real orchestra, not just the thirteen other musicians who accompanied him — rather than electronica.  (Yes, we understand that performing The BQE with a symphony was a ball-buster,  in his mind, apparently, a failure.  We don’t care; we’d rather hear strings than synth.) The theatricality of what he does is probably closer to Laurie Anderson than Lady Gaga.  And at its core is a young genius with a beautiful voice and a heartbreaking sense of melody, even though right now he seems hell-bent on encapsulating it all in something mechanical and able to withstand reentry from space. And we know he is ready to rumble with the wild things.

The Black Angels Flutter Their Wings

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , on September 17, 2010 by johnbuckley100

Kismet might seem to be at work this week, given that Black Mountain releases a new album, Wilderness Heart, that sounds like a great Led Zeppelin record, and Robert Plant releases an album, Band of Joy, that is as fresh as produce from a farmers market and maybe just as tasty.  It can’t be an accident, though, that another one of the Black bands — The Black Angels — have alighted once more on Earth, flapping their wings and spreading their own gospel of paranoia, intrigue, and thundering drums. You see, they’re going out on tour with Black Mountain, and it’s not bloody likely the two bands “accidentally” released albums the same day.

When their eponymous debut came out midway through the last decade, followed by the sublime Passover, we thought The Black Angels were  charter members in the psychedelic punk club, playing atmospheric space rock with a kick. But the new ‘un, Phosphene Dreams, has these shape-shifting songs that punch their way through the fog to reveal melodies, hooks, and heapin’ slabs ‘o chewy goodness, like the best baked spiked brownies.

Reference points here are as disparate in nature, if similar in time frame, to their Austin forebears The Thirteenth Floor Elevators and The Doors. Some time ago we might have thought of them in the same category as The Warlocks, although maybe playing axes not so bold.  On Phosphene Dreams, though, The Black Angels play like they’ve locked the doors of the Shindig set and they and the whole studio audience have quaffed a flagon of soma…and the shadows we see on our black and white television are mesmerizing to an extent that only later do we realize it wasn’t the fault of that rabbit ear antennae.

Can’t wait for The Black Angels to open for Black Mountain at the 9:30 Club on November 7th.

On Black Mountain’s “Wilderness Heart,” Stephen McBean Writes The Book

Posted in Music with tags , , on September 14, 2010 by johnbuckley100

We’ve always known that Stephen McBean was ambitious.  Any questions about this were dispelled last year when album cover art for McBean’s other band, The Pink Mountaintops, looked like the jacket for a post-war classic novel.  He did not write the Great Canadian Novel with The Pink Mountaintops’ Outside Love, but with Wilderness Heart, the long awaited  realization of his main band Black Mountain, he’s done it.  Or at least produced an equivalent achievement — and something considerably more exciting.

When the single “Old Fangs” was released this summer, Black Mountain seemed to pick up where 2008’s Into The Future had deposited them, a band channeling greasy metal chords and organ riffs from the early ’70s.  “The Hair Song,” which popped up on their MySpace page in August, was a tantalizing mix of Led Zeppelin 3 and “Kashmir,” and we assumed it to be at least mostly tongue in cheek.  But McBean’s ambition is not to recycle the great early ’70s metal bands, but to at once surpass them while also capturing the breadth of what it used to mean to make an entire album.  You know, bombastic, slow-churning temples ‘o riff rock, followed by the folky duets with the sultry sounding female whose voice serves more as emollient than counterpoint, followed by fast galloping proto-punk and then one of those magical concoctions that could only exist in context within an album. You see, it is a firm belief around these parts that the album, as a delivery vehicle and unit of measurement, is as perfect a vessel for displaying music as the novel is for displaying writing.  To pull out songs from Wilderness Heart and not play the whole damn thing would be like summarizing Ulysses in PowerPoint.

If ever there was doubt that McBean’s guitar playing could deliver upon his ambitions, we find an answer in “The Way To Gone.”  (Questioning McBean’s guitar playing is not a put down, for after all, the guy aspires to the same league Led Zep were in, and they had a guitarist by the name of Jimmy Page.)  On Wilderness Heart, McBean’s fretwork is as impressive as his singing and songwriting, and the band as a whole — comprising the bassist and drummer from Blood Meridian, not to mention the Pink Mountaintops and other projects — shows evidence not just of practice but of all the scrimmages they’ve played.

Tulip Frenzy World Headquarters has grokked on Black Mountain since their arrival some years back, loved the way McBean and the band alone seem to have been able to capture the No Wave sound of the late ’70s (“Bicycle Man” could have been an Eight Eyed Spy outtake), loved how they could fold Sly and the Family Stone call-and-response vocals into a song like “Druganaut,” loved the way they seemed to have been immersed in albums like Station To Station and, in the guise of the Pink Mountaintops, Pere Ubu’s Modern Dance.  We have not loved quite so much the Black Sabbath/Cactus Seconal riffs, but admire McBean for sticking to his guns.  Live, they’re interesting in part for what a mild-mannered presence McBean is, hiding behind his beard, his guitar, and the microphone stand; the fierceness he shows in the studio slips in real life, like some Wizard of Oz mask that gets dropped when the curtain’s pulled back.

We’ve been waiting for Wilderness Heart the way last year we waited for Outside Love — wanting evidence that Stephen McBean and Black Mountain could pull together the album their ambitions promised.  Consider it delivered.

The Forthcoming Delight Of Black Mountain’s “Wilderness Heart”

Posted in Music with tags , , , , on August 20, 2010 by johnbuckley100

In the last 12 months, Black Mountain has made moves toward world domination mostly through the cosmically odd use of “Druganaut” in an ad for the Buick Lacrosse (see Tulip Frenzy’s writeup here.)  I guess last year was The Pink Mountaintops’ turn, though it was disappointing that we don’t seem to have anything new from other Black Mountain offshoots such as Blood Meridian or Lightning Dust.

Then in late July we got the gloriously sleazy single “Old Fang,” with its Deep Purple organ and video of Stephen McBean riding shotgun in an early ’70s Mustang as a Susan Atkins-type hippie vixen hitchhiker lures him to her psychedelic lair.  “Old Fang” could have been the #1 song on WBCN circa 1972, and Black Mountain would have been headliners at Watkins Glen or something. In 2010, it comes off as an absolutely pitch perfect slice o’ mid-Nixon grunge.

The release of “The Hair Song” on their MySpace page gives a further indication of where the forthcoming Wilderness Heart is heading — the purest homage to Jimmy Page, Robert Plant and the boys, replete with “Kashmir” strings — this side of Lez Zeppelin. Get ready.  September 14th release date.

%d bloggers like this: