w/the Mountain Goats, Crystal Skulls
Sat Feb 12, Crocodile, $12, 9 pm.
Whether it's a fascination with finding pristine vinyl relics in junk-ridden yard sales or a straightforward appreciation for ancient recording techniques, for every future-focused rock movement there's a complementary group still tinkering with the past. Vancouver's Stephen McBean is unapologetically tethered to the latter classification, as the Vietnam era flashes like amber-tinted slides across the buttes and bluffs in his bands, Pink Mountaintops and Black Mountain. This is especially evident in his Black Mountain song "Set Us Free," where McBean laments hawkish American attitudes: "The war machine keeps on rolling/evil minds and hearts of stone… set us free/and overthrow your war machine." Both of McBean's Mountains display classic-rock-referencing, sepia-toned songs, recorded on an old eight-track and dumped "to the digital domain to squeeze more sounds [out of] 'em," writes McBean via e-mail. "But," he adds, "we love analog and always try to reap its full rewards sonically."
Pink Mountaintops' anatomy-referencing material is rife with double entendres, as a lyrical romp through "Bad Boogie Ballin'," "I (Fuck) Mountains," and "Sweet 69" is soundtracked by tousled, textured, minimalist Velvet Underground blues. Black Mountain shows the former Jerk with a Bomb frontman ringleading a lo-fi sound that expands on the Pink concept, swaying between a murky, proto-metal aesthetic, free-jazz experimentation, and heavily stoned pop. It all comes off like a parallel-universe sound to Neil Michael Hagerty's acid-rock constellations.
McBean drowsily delivers his words like he's one inhalation away from punishing red eye, and he's complemented by Amber Wells' quivering responses; their vocal chemistry occasionally evokes Fleetwood Mac. Other familiar touchstones on Black Mountain's eponymous debut include the Rolling Stones (referenced in the song title "No Satisfaction"), Led Zeppelin-toned riffs on "Druganaut," and Neil Young's folky balladry on "Set Us Free." But rather than aping the past by slapping a new coat of paint on a used vehicle, McBean and his Black Mountain Army collective treat their inspirations as patchwork pieces, to be stitched together delicately and in colorful new combinations. The attention to detail on Black Mountain is exemplary, as spartan woodwind, handclaps, and tambourine accents flesh out simple arrangements--as does Jeremy Schmidt's "psych-atmospherics," a "monstrous synth collection" that McBean says gives the songs their extra lysergic dimension. "The guy [even] has his own Mellotron in his room," McBean adds.
Populated by members of Vancouver acts like Blood Meridian, the Black Halos, and Orphan, Black Mountain doesn't need fancy studio trickery to transport listeners to alternate realities. As McBean announces in the chorus of "Modern Music," "We can't stand/your modern music/We feel afflicted," before cynically calling out, "One two three/another pop explosion/one two three/another hit recording."
McBean explains, "Classic rock, or whatever you wanna call it, was probably the first sound I was exposed to when I landed on this planet. Back of the parents' car, cool kids down the street, y'know… I can't listen to a lot of new bands, even if I might like them musically, because I can't get past the production. Pitch correction, click tracks, and mountains of compression just suck the soul and life outta it all for me. Flaws are beautiful things--then you at least know you're not listening to a room full of robots or computers."
The warm, earthy vibes pervasive in Pink Mountaintops and Black Mountain are the antithesis of mechanically mapped records, especially in the joyful reverie swelling over the course of songs like "Faulty Times." By the finish of this eight-minute piece, the music has aggregated from one languid guitar riff to an almost evangelical fervor. Suggestions to "smoke some kill/and get outta this place," leave the weight of the world to the more temperate, and the chorus and instrumentation fan out into a fantastic antiwar jubilee.
McBean, who has worked his way through numerous punk and hardcore acts over the years, says his current passion for a vintage-rock sound comes from a hunger to constantly expand his musical vocabulary. "There've been many moments throughout my life that have had a drastic impact--musically or otherwise. It's easy to get lazy and settle for less and then realize you can't stand any of it," he explains. "It's all about tearing down the walls and stretching forward while still being able to hear the sound of your own shrieking cry inside your mother's womb."