Photo: Courtesy of the artist via Bandcamp

Magick Mountain Are Having a Party But Is the Audience Invited?

Garage rockers Magick Mountain debut with Weird Feelings, an album big on fuzz but light on hooks.

Weird Feelings
Magick Mountain
23 October 2020

Magick Mountain are the kind of band that sounds like they would be a lot more fun to play in than to listen to. The three members of the group, Lins Wilson, Tom Hudson, and Nestor Matthews, have all spent significant time in other bands, and more than anything, Magick Mountain sounds like a project the members turn to when they want to blow off steam and rock out.

“Weird Feelings by Magick Mountain” is a phrase that brings to mind the late 1960s or early 1970s psychedelic rock, and the album’s cover art leans into that as well. But musically, Magick Mountain are much more of a blues-influenced fuzz-rock outfit than they are a trippy psychedelic band. Rock fans have heard this kind of stuff many times before, and Magick Mountain don’t bring much to the table that feels fresh. That leaves us to ponder if the songwriting is strong enough to overcome the familiarity of the sound.

In a couple of notable instances on Weird Feelings, the answer is a resounding “Yes!” But that accounts for only two of the songs on the album. Otherwise, the band reverts to a distorted rock template that sounds like a blast to play but is only a mildly enjoyable listen. Opener “Bart Cobain” illustrates this issue. Pounding snare and kick drum accompany fuzzy guitar and bass, and after an extended introduction, Wilson comes in singing, “Weird feelings again.” The song chugs along reliably through a couple of verses, and there’s a guitar solo that riffs on the main melody, then they repeat the opening verse. The band hit hard on a bridge that’s only a small step away from the main verse, then go into a final coda that’s another small step removed from the bridge, and then it ends. There’s no real chorus, no real hook in either the vocals or guitars, but it’s got a lot of energy.

Wilson and Hudson have solid interplay as vocalists, harmonizing effectively and occasionally combining lead and background singing in interesting ways. But their voices are often low in the mix compared to the instruments, which serves to blunt the songs’ melodies. The chorus of “Cherokee”, with the duo rising in pitch to sing, “And you’ll find me / On the strawberry moon”, shares its spotlight with a fuzz-guitar riff, and it feels like the guitar wins the battle instead of the two parts complementing each other.

“Dream Chaser”, the only nominally quiet song on the album, upends this arrangement, with acoustic guitars taking a backseat to the vocals. The song also features arco bass and atmospheric but not overwhelming electric guitar accents. In the final minute, the band crank up the guitars for an extended outro but keep the tempo languid and even let the string bass stay in the mix. It’s the most impressive track on Weird Feelings from an arrangement standpoint, even if it still lacks the kind of vocal hook or even guitar riff to make it genuinely sticky with the listener.

“Stranger Danger” and “King Cobra” are the two exceptions to Magick Mountain’s frustrating lack of hooks. “Stranger Danger” opens with a huge-sounding, genuinely catchy guitar riff, and it’s quickly doubled in the bass, giving it even more heft. It disappears during the song’s verses but returns as soon as the vocals end, serving essentially as an instrumental chorus. Magick Mountain play this just right, keeping the riff going in the bass even during the guitar solo. They build the whole song around the riff and do it well.

“King Cobra” starts a little slower, taking a few seconds for its big riff to kick in. In this one, the riff also serves as the main vocal melody, as Wilson sings, “I wish I was a snake so I could taste the air / And everywhere you go, you know I will chase you there.” It goes into a wordless chorus with simple vocals stretching out the sound “Aaa”. But the band get back to the main riff as quickly as possible. An uptempo bridge pushes back into the chorus, but the band end the song with another run through the main riff verse.

Those two songs demonstrate how the band’s fuzz-blues-rock attack can be harnessed into something that’s genuinely catchy and fun to listen to, but the bulk of the album really struggles with this. Listeners who want to jam out to fuzz-rock will find a lot to like here, but I found it a bit too monotone. Even the slight genre departures, like the punky “Infinity X2” and the White Stripes-y closer “The Creeper”, failed to move the needle much because of the lack of sticky hooks.

RATING 5 / 10