Friday, June 08, 2007

Album Review: Black Mountain Army: Lightning Dust

The Black Mountain Army is an interesting but seemingly complicated collective of musicians and artists or otherwise friends in Vancouver, BC. Members reportedly hold down day jobs at a local mental health clinic, which is ironic because their own various musical projects exist somewhat like multiple personalities. Outlets such as Black Mountain and The Pink Mountaintops have generated considerable buzz, and have relied heavily on the talent and influence (and personalities?) of Stephen McBean, a longtime veteran of the BC music scene.

The upcoming debut from Lightning Dust is a notable contribution because, for one, it does not involve Stephen McBean. Additionally, or consequently, the music played by Lightning Dust contrasts greatly with that of previous Black Mountain Army offerings. Their debut further establishes the Army as a ranging music collective worthy of your attention, even if the trek from BC to DFWd is a long one and we tend to miss out on these bands’ live performances.

The Lightning Dust project involves mostly Amber Webber and Joshua Wells. Both are veterans of the Army, and attempting to trace the evolution of their involvement in Black Mountain Army projects is an exercise in taxonomy:

Joshua’s collaborations with McBean pre-date Black Mountain (the band): In the the late nineties the two played together in the esteemed Ex Dead Teenager, who were one of the first bands to record at the venerable Hive Creative Labs, an influential low-budget studio that has nurtured the BC music scene over the past decade (e.g., Destroyer has recorded there). Wells and McBean were later joined by Amber Webber in Jerk With a Bomb.

Jerk With a Bomb begot Black Mountain, with Wells and Webber contributing alongside McBean and others. Black Mountain is often depicted as a drug-influenced throwback to sixties/seventies VU, Pink Floyd, Black Sabbath, etc.

The Pink Mountaintops
are an offshoot of Black Mountain in which Wells, Webber, and others perform ideas that are more strictly McBean’s. With McBean at the helm, The Pink Mountaintops were invited to SXSW 2006. Whereas Black Mountain is associated with marijuana and LSD, The Pink Mountaintops project, managing to humor spirituality while remaining fixated on all things sexual, seems more representative of a McBean MDMA binge.

And so if the music of Black Mountain and The Pink Mountaintops references hippie hedonism, that of Lightning Dust is more aligned with the disconsolation a hippie might have felt after Nixon trounced McGovern in '72. Since the album expresses resignation or indolence, if not outright depression, it seems unlikely to approximate the buzz of its Black Mountain Army predecessors.

The lethargic pace of the album is underscored by its instrumentation, which is primarily sparse: Drums are heard on only about a third of the tracks. The generally warm sounds of cellos, organs, pianos, and acoustic guitar are the building blocks for most songs, and they allow Amber Webber and her vocals to be at the center of attention. She keeps things interesting with an affecting voice. At it’s best, she sounds like a groggy Chan Marshall, or a glum, even shivering cold Victoria Bergsman (defected Concretes frontwoman). Unfortunately, the lyrical content doesn't always match the emotional force in which it's delivered.

Webber usually sounds as if she’s communicating something that has her on the verge of tears, but an exception to this and the overall tempo of the album is the third track, Wind Me Up. Not coincidentally, I think that track captures the prize for most likely to be skipped on subsequent listenings. More representative of the album as a whole are Heaven, When You Go, and Castles and Caves. Also strong is the album’s final song, Days Go By, which features a double-dub of Webber accompanying herself beautifully, with simple piano, guitar, and drum parts that trudge along seeming reluctant to keep pace.

Overall, there's enough substance for this debut to be considered more than just another Black Mountain Army vanity project. Those fond of Mark Kozelek's output, or maybe a band like Ida, might be inclined to check it out. If it doesn't sound like your thing, well then sit tight because the recent prolific history of the Black Mountain Army suggests that you probably won't have to wait too long to try out something else entirely different.

Lightning Dust's
Lightning Dust will be released by Jagjaguwar on June 19th.



Anonymous Anonymous said...

This album sounds really good to me; everything else from that camp has been. I think Ladyhawk and Blood Meridian are somehow related to Black Mountain, also. Plus I find Amber Webber's beer gut strangely sexy, so there's that.

11:56 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

wow........could we get a family tree to map all that out?....I'll have to check it out...

3:53 PM  

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