“Stephen McBean: On My Short List of Musical Geniuses”

For Led Zeppelin, life itself was a war. Their unscrupulous womanizing is justified by this, in theory. The music itself spoke of a certain conquest as well, with its reckless abandon and penchant for formulating uncentered pockets of tension within a given song, and in one particularly womanizing stupor (“How Many More Times”) Robert Plant singe-ing our minds with the missive: “I’ve got you in the sights of my gun.”

But Black Mountain sing for peace. They always have, and they always will.
Neither band, though, ironically, seems to be the music of hippies, because Black Mountain channel Zeppelin as easily their biggest stylistic influence (even within the song “No Satisfaction,” which goes, “We can’t get no satisfaction”).
In peace-seeking, Black Mountain are not complacent, and they show how the true conscientious dissenter is indeed angry, mentally encapsulating a world gone mad with greed and corruption. In the Future, the band’s 2008 whopper-rocker, opened with a riff that was about as Zeppelin as you get: even venturing into unorthodox meter with the seven-bar phrase. The song is centered on a riff, not a vocal chorus. This is the return of rock: personality is gone, culture is gone, Jefferson Airplane’s and David Crosby’s hippy-ish “love” is gone — it’s a human construct of caterwauling electric guitars and percussion that jabs at the ear drums, all of which speaks for itself as a cultural statement.
And in loving Led Zeppelin, the Mountain only further their own mastery of folk rock, a knack shown more than prominently in catchy, harmonic singalongs like “No Satisfaction,” “Stay Free” as well as the female-sung “Old Fangs” which culls from their criminally overlooked 2010 album Wilderness Heart. The band practice mental health social work professionally, as a day job, sing copiously about smoking marijuana, and reside in the axiomatic municipality of Vancouver.
Still, nothing about their music is SAFE. It isn’t bet-hedging. McBean may reserve a couple of dormant etudes for his other band, the still listenable and sometimes rocking Pink Mountaintops, but the Mountain seem always to sound the cataclysmic cathexis of male and female, just like The White Stripes — but with music slightly more psychedelic and lyrics more large scale, less Detroit-busy.
Props should go to, of all places, Rolling Stone, because they were all over it in ’05, championing the band from the get-go and rating the self-titled debut the best “psychedelic rock” album from that year. They were right, and pitchfork was right too, though not really BOISTEROUS in their appraisal, which I find odd because right away the Vancouver rockers seemed “indie”-ready, every bit understanding of Yo La Tengo’s delicacies as they were of big riffs and Lord of the Rings. And while their debut toggled along yielding a song of seemingly every style, all equally potent from the classic rock cavern “Druganaut” to the inimitable drum machine dirge “No Hits,” even the folkier followup never failed to leave an impression, sounding always very much a sovereign, singular artistic statement made from the heart, delivered in heartless times. Wilderness Heart, then, was one of a veritable slew of precocious followup albums made by already established indie giants, from Deerhunter, to No Age, to Beach House, Women, and Menomena, and so sort of got lost amidst the shuffle, though ironically it does play as the band’s most hipster-ready album: abandoning drawn-out prog for transgender pop, as it does.
So then with this new issue, the already titularly Zeppelin-appointing IV which opens with a song that’s all of eight long minutes, they obviously seem to be pretty confident in their songwriting ability, and maybe they just want to be different from the current musical norm, like Incubus. [1] Certainly, nothing in these times seems to call for the eight-minute rock song, the way possibly the war in Iraq period did, and in these times of magnified press commentary, I can’t help but think maybe McBean is making a statement here, something like: ignore our music? Fine, then, you get ignorable music. Maybe down the road Black Mountain will be one of those bands like Jethro Tull which, despite being basically the best rock unit on the planet, gets left out of the Hall of Fame, and if this is the case, I’d just like to say that they are my (Mark) Action Jackson: with the game on the line and when I really need some psychedelic rock to exterminate the money-hoarding bigwigs from my mind, there’s no one I’d rather get the final shot.
[1] I read a great article about Incubus one time in it must have been 2003 or early 2004, about how right when rap metal took off they issued their softest and most melodic album, the continually listable Morning View, and then when the world was going to emo shambles they rocked forth with the blistering A Crow Left of the Murder. For the record, nobody on Earth made a ballsier manifesto against George W. Bush than the music video for “Megalomaniac,” and it was timely too.

Leave a Reply