Black Mountain: In the Future

In the Future is an expansive statement of an album, full of big guitars and cold space, a variety of sounds and a hard-earned and ever-present brilliance.

Black Mountain

In the Future

Label: Jagjaguwar
US Release Date: 2008-01-22
UK Release Date: 2008-01-21

The cover to Black Mountain's new record, In the Future, is deceptively retro. With the title in mind, the cover looks like some vision of the future dreamed up in the '70s. As if the Rubik's cube shape could be some traveling vessel, or a square planet. It is a cover that immediately aligns the band with a lot of the '70s psych-rock bands -- here Pink Floyd in particular -- they so often call to mind.

However, anyone who heard the band's eponymous first record knows they are not interested in rehashing the past or resting on ironic artifacts of a time long past. With that in mind, what becomes more interesting about the artwork is the change in color from the front of the disc to the back. The front is warm -- all yellow and orange sunset hues -- while the back is a collection of cold, blue and green cubes. That movement in temperature is indicative of the album's sound. In the Future moves often, and in grand fashion, from warm, crunchy, big sounds, to expansive coldness. It is an album that manages to sound bigger than its larger-than-life predecessor, and also expands on the band's already large sonic palate.

Black Mountain was an album that thrived on guitar riffs. Songs like "Druganaut" and "Don't Run Our Hearts Around" were amped up with huge, chugging guitar riffs that made the most navel-gazing indie kid bang his head. It was those moments that made the album so good, and so accessible. The quieter moments on that record, however, often came off as a little slack. They had trouble keeping up the tension when they turned down the volume.

Not so with In the Future. This album is more consistent than the first album because it succeeds not only with the hard-rock shuffle of "Stormy High", but also with the acoustic-driven, high-register of "Stay Free". The band's not-so-secret weapon, vocalist Amber Webber, delivers the goods here, belting it out when the eight-minute-plus "Tyrants" lets the bottom drop out. She stays in the background for a while, backing up Stephen McBean's vocals, but also gradually taking over. On top of McBean's typically giant guitar work, Webber holds up her end of the bargain, throwing the quiet churn of the song on her back and singing the band out of the eye of the storm, and back into the swell and squall of the track.

In fact, "Tyrants" could be a perfect microcosm of the album. It shows their already-established guitar attack, the eardrum puncturing rhythm section, their new ability to use the space in their quieter moments to keep the movement of the song going. And coupled with other songs like the Bowie-space-pop of "Wild Wind", or the slow burn of keyboards on "Wucan", the band clearly establishes a new, much more varied sound than on their first record.

But, in the end, "Tyrants" can't be this album's biggest statement. Mostly because its eight minutes end up sounding like a radio edit when you get to "Bright Lights". This song, a nearly 17-minute opus, is the biggest risk -- by far -- on an album full of risks. It is a song that fully indulges the band's noodling, jammy side, and the results are fantastic. From the slow, careful build, where McBean and Webber exchange vocals, repeating "Bright light, light bright" over and over again, as the band assembles itself behind their cadence. They slip into a trench of spacey balladry from there, until that repeating title line comes back in and they build to the biggest guitar riff on In the Future. And just when it seems the song has reached where it needs to go -- to loud, breakneck rock music -- the song doesn't just bottom out, it falls into an abyss. From here, In the Future's other major strength -- the keyboard work -- takes over. The ambient, underwater sounds could be where the song loses its way -- and on Black Mountain maybe they would have -- but here and there the noise swells, making you lean forward in anticipation, ready for the band to kick back in. They don't, not right away. But when they do, it is giant and euphoric and as loud and heavy and fun as rock music gets.

The songs eventually fades into the final track, "Night Walks", which is almost entirely made up of Webber's vocals. It's a quiet, ghostly end to a raucous album, but the ending works. It completes the album's movement. More than most albums, In the Future seems to be aware it is traveling over time. So the album's title does not suggest the album's destination, so much as its trajectory. The listener feels, after all the highs and lows, the drawn-out quiet and crowded noise, that they've gone from one place to another. Been moved by this music. It's an amazing achievement for a band who had already done so much with their first record. To warm us up, then chill the sweat on our arms. To drag us through the darkness only to squint, unbelieving, at the light. To start where we are and end up In the Future, still unsure of what this future is, but ecstatic and exhausted by the journey to get here.


Cover down, pray through: Bob Dylan's underrated, misunderstood "gospel years" are meticulously examined in this welcome new installment of his Bootleg series.

"How long can I listen to the lies of prejudice?
How long can I stay drunk on fear out in the wilderness?"
-- Bob Dylan, "When He Returns," 1979

Bob Dylan's career has been full of unpredictable left turns that have left fans confused, enthralled, enraged – sometimes all at once. At the 1965 Newport Folk Festival – accompanied by a pickup band featuring Mike Bloomfield and Al Kooper – he performed his first electric set, upsetting his folk base. His 1970 album Self Portrait is full of jazzy crooning and head-scratching covers. In 1978, his self-directed, four-hour film Renaldo and Clara was released, combining concert footage with surreal, often tedious dramatic scenes. Dylan seemed to thrive on testing the patience of his fans.

Keep reading... Show less

Inane Political Discourse, or, Alan Partridge's Parody Politics

Publicity photo of Steve Coogan courtesy of Sky Consumer Comms

That the political class now finds itself relegated to accidental Alan Partridge territory along the with rest of the twits and twats that comprise English popular culture is meaningful, to say the least.

"I evolve, I don't…revolve."
-- Alan Partridge

Alan Partridge began as a gleeful media parody in the early '90s but thanks to Brexit he has evolved into a political one. In print and online, the hopelessly awkward radio DJ from Norwich, England, is used as an emblem for incompetent leadership and code word for inane political discourse.

Keep reading... Show less

The show is called Crazy Ex-Girlfriend largely because it spends time dismantling the structure that finds it easier to write women off as "crazy" than to offer them help or understanding.

In the latest episode of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, the CW networks' highly acclaimed musical drama, the shows protagonist, Rebecca Bunch (Rachel Bloom), is at an all time low. Within the course of five episodes she has been left at the altar, cruelly lashed out at her friends, abandoned a promising new relationship, walked out of her job, had her murky mental health history exposed, slept with her ex boyfriend's ill father, and been forced to retreat to her notoriously prickly mother's (Tovah Feldshuh) uncaring guardianship. It's to the show's credit that none of this feels remotely ridiculous or emotionally manipulative.

Keep reading... Show less

To be a migrant worker in America is to relearn the basic skills of living. Imagine doing that in your 60s and 70s, when you thought you'd be retired.

Nomadland: Surviving America in the Twenty-First Century

Publisher: W. W. Norton
Author: Jessica Bruder
Publication date: 2017-09

There's been much hand-wringing over the state of the American economy in recent years. After the 2008 financial crisis upended middle-class families, we now live with regular media reports of recovery and growth -- as well as rising inequality and decreased social mobility. We ponder what kind of future we're creating for our children, while generally failing to consider who has already fallen between the gaps.

Keep reading... Show less

Gallagher's work often suffers unfairly beside famous husband's Raymond Carver. The Man from Kinvara should permanently remedy this.

Many years ago—it had to be 1989—my sister and I attended a poetry reading given by Tess Gallagher at California State University, Northridge's Little Playhouse. We were students, new to California and poetry. My sister had a paperback copy of Raymond Carver's Cathedral, which we'd both read with youthful admiration. We knew vaguely that he'd died, but didn't really understand the full force of his fame or talent until we unwittingly went to see his widow read.

Keep reading... Show less
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.