This reissue of Canadian group’s debut album gets the deluxe treatment, doubling its length and lessening its impact.
Stephen McBean has proven himself a divisive figure on the modern indie rock landscape. Vacillating between the hard-charging Black Mountain and the more stylistically unpredictable Pink Mountaintops, the yin to the former’s yang, McBean continually refuses to be pinned down. Those who tend to favor the latter’s spacier 1970s jamming style chafe at the latter’s often introspective softer side and vice versa. While elements of both groups inevitably find their way into the other’s recordings, Black Mountain, being a group as opposed to Pink Mountaintops solo project approach, often displays a greater range of styles and ideas. But at the center of both is McBean.
With last year’s surprisingly polarizing Get Back, McBean released his first album of new material under the Pink Mountaintops moniker in five years. And now, instead of a new Black Mountain release exactly five years from their last proper studio album (not counting their Year Zero soundtrack from 2012), McBean and company have seen fit to mark the 10th anniversary of the self-titled debut with an expanded reissue. Nearly doubling the length of the original release, Black Mountain [10th Anniversary Deluxe Edition] features a host of demos, remixes and sundry other bonuses.
But little adds to the original album’s ramshackle qualities, elevating its status beyond a mid-2000s curio. Neither indicative of a specific movement or declarative stylistic statement, Black Mountain instead plays like a loose collection of genre pastiches ranging from rudimentary free jazz (the opening “Modern Music”) to psych folk filtered through a Rolling Stones lens (“No Satisfaction”). It’s all competent enough and more interesting than not, but does not, ten years on, feel like the revelatory statement this reissue would have the listener believe.
Firstly, having only released two studio albums proper in the intervening ten years, this deluxe reissue seems a bit premature and more an attempt to cash in on hipster nostalgia than a warranted reevaluation of the album’s merits and contributions to the contemporary music landscape. Hosts of other artists have explored similar stylistic and thematic material to greater effect both before and after Black Mountain’s initial release. While it is certainly not without merit (“Set Us Free” in particular is a highlight) it lacks the necessary broader cultural impact to be of interest to anyone more than the most ardent Black Mountain fans.
An intriguing mix of sounds and styles, Black Mountain refuses to be easily classified. But as is the case with much of McBean’s subsequent releases, bits and pieces of influences creep in and out, making it yet another game of spot-the-reference. While acts like Black Sabbath inform their heavier moments, “No Hits” sounds like a darkwave Giorgio Moroder filtered through No Wave saxophone skronk. An interesting concept in theory, in practice its execution becomes, at nearly seven minutes, more unnecessarily repetitive than compelling.
Similarly, the rambling psych-folk of “Heart Of Snow” seems to know where it wants to go but often isn’t entirely sure how best to get there. Simmering through slow, acoustic driven passages only to burn through heavy psych stretches that threaten to throw the tempo and feel off the rails, it’s a nightmarish negative image “Some Velvet Morning” that lacks that song’s comparably subtler transitions and more assured melodic hook. Beautiful yet broken, it’s a high point that aspires to something greater than it ultimately becomes.
Of the bonus tracks, “Buffalo Swan” adheres to the original album’s more long-winded excursions into the past. Sounding like a half-speed Neil Young jam circa Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere, it’s a bit too overlong to be anything more than a period curiosity. Similarly, “Druganaut (Extended Remix)” is just that, doubling the length of the album version with assorted jamming and psychedelic freak-outs that, while occasionally interesting, add little more to the song’s original impact.
Only the “Set Us Free” and the autobiographical/origin-story “Black Mountain” add much to the album’s overall narrative, showing early sketches of where McBean seemed to see the band headed. These instead sound more akin to early Pink Mountaintops tracks that what would ultimately become Black Mountain. Like much of the original album, Black Mountain [10th Anniversary Deluxe Edition] is overlong and lacking the focus the group would obtain on subsequent releases and McBean himself would begin to reign in under his Pink Mountaintops guise. A bit premature in its attempted canonization, Black Mountain is not the masterpiece this release would like us to believe.