For this review of the 10th-anniversary deluxe reissue of Black Mountain‘s self-titled debut, I’m joined by my erstwhile travel companion Funky Donny Fred.
FDF: DUDE — the first Black Mountain album! Y’know? … Fuuuuck…
LN: If, like Funky Donny Fred and myself, you love your stoner rock aesthetically smart, then there are really just two post-millennium groups whose albums you regularly look forward to. One of them, Queens of the Stone Age, is on a much needed break after flogging the concert circuit and approaching a level of saturation just this side of Foo Fighters. The other is Black Mountain, a more mysterious group who appears every few years to drop another record and tour far too infrequently before disappearing into a number of eclectic side projects (including Pink Mountaintops, Lightning Dust, Kodiak Deathbeds, and Blood Meridian).
While we wait for the next Black Mountain album to arrive, the independent record label Jagjaguwar is doing us a good one by reissuing the band’s debut as an expanded deluxe edition. This is the heralded record that unveiled the Vancouver group’s guitar and hard-rock keyboards sound, which shifts from a loose, Stones-like jam to tense, Doors-like psychodrama to thick, hallucinatory attack, occasionally within the space of a single song. It also introduced the utterly unique vocals of Stephen McBean and Amber Webber, whose enigmatic drawl and witchy quaver can break your heart or harmonize to shamanistic effect.
Black Mountain remains the shaggiest of the band’s full-length albums. Whereas In the Future (2008) would suggest Deep Purple reinvented for SubPop records, and Wilderness Heart (2010) tries on a radio-ready sheen, the debut showcases a range of musical styles that the band has since narrowed even as their command as recording artists grows. Honestly, I kind of miss the gonzo Velvet Underground stomp of “No Satisfaction” and the weird robotic throb of “No Hits” from their recent material. The deluxe edition contextualizes these older styles with the addition of several demos and unreleased tracks from the band’s origins that fans will need to add to their collection. One of these demos, “Black Mountain,” is the first song McBean wrote for the group:
FDF: Wait, this deluxe edition comes with a song called “Black Mountain” — on an album called Black Mountain, by the band Black Mountain? That’s like “Black Sabbath” on Black Sabbath, or “Meat Puppets” on Meat Puppets, “Bad Company” on Bad Company…
LN: Right, or “Bo Diddley” by Bo Diddley on his first album Bo Diddley.
FDF: Yeah… FUUUCK…
LN: To my thinking, the real value-added here is the inclusion of the “Druganaut” EP. On the original album, that song clocks in just under four minutes, a tantalizing but inexplicable edit of the extended recording reserved for the EP. Centered around a chugging, feel-good groove ripped from Can’s Tago Mago, the track takes the listener on the ascent of the titular druganaut, “lighting up the sky” as it travels higher into the atmosphere. Followed by the mystical “Buffalo Swan,” another one of Black Mountain’s signature suspenseful, extended tracks, this is some of the most essential psychedelia of the past ten years, hidden away on an obscure EP until now.
If you’ve never heard Black Mountain before, you can do no worse than start at the beginning. But for those of you who save your new-vinyl money for only the worthiest of purchases, this one is right up your alley. Of course, it comes out on CD and MP3 too, but for headphone journeys, savor this double-album reissue.
FDF: Also, you can’t roll a number on an MP3.
LN: Keeping it classy as always, Funky Donny Fred.
A sociology professor living in upstate New York, Leonard Nevarez is patiently waiting until his kids are old enough for a family roadtrip to Maryland Deathfest. He blogs at musicalurbanism.org and is writing a book about Martha & the Muffins and the late 70s/early 80s downtown Toronto music scene.