BLACK MOUNTAIN – In The Future (2008)

Black Mountain - In The Future Certain instrument pairings inevitably call to mind certain time periods: the harpsichord and violin, for example, recall the Baroque era. And the moog and fuzzed out guitars recall the early 1970’s. An era before Led Zeppelin and Pink Floyd were household names, before prog had degenerated from a bonafide musical revolution into a dirty word, and several years before I was born.

Black Mountain don’t exactly play prog on In The Future (or their eponymous debut from 2005, for that matter), but they frequently flirt with it. The best example of this comes with the nearly seventeen minute Bright Lights, which floats slowly into space in a haze of moog and organ smoke, propelled by solemn guitars. And then the bass kicks in (yes! bass! remember bass?). And then the whole thing explodes, and fades, and explodes again, before releasing itself into silence. It’s a cold and powerful experience, and is definitely the album’s biggest highlight.

Following Bright Lights is no easy task, but Night Walks does an excellent job sending the album off in a tempo-less keyboard shroud. There’s practically no guitar here; only at the end does it surface. And when it does, it’s faint, like one last light from a distant planet flickering into nothingness. Constrast this with the beginning of the album: Stormy High begins with mightily with a riff plucked ripe from decades past. It’s not terribly fast, but it’s persistent; the song never outruns itself. It’s refreshing to hear that after listening to the latest Mars Volta debacle, where the mindset seemed to be “cram as many ideas into one songs as possible and plausibility be damned!”

Another standout track on the album, Tyrants succeeds not because of it’s instrumentation, but through the dual vocals Stephen McBean and Amy Webber. Some of the harmonies they create called to mind some material on Rusted Root’s 1994 album When I Woke; there’s a dynamic sorrow present in both instances, and it transcends the genre barrier nicely, be it in the realm of neo-tribal jam band or the summit of a Black Mountain*.

The band only stop to de-fuzz their guitars once, on Stay Free, an album that consists primarily of gentle acoustic guitar and McBean’s vocals. I don’t know if I could take an entire album’s worth of this material, but Stay Free certainly works well in the context of the rest of In The Future. The song was included on the Spider-Man 3 Soundtrack (whose tracklist is alarmingly indie-heavy for a $200+ million motion picture). When the band perform on Late Night With Conan O’Brien next week, I’ll wager that Stay Free is going to get played.

It’s possible that In The Future might be the most ironically named album of the year. Black Mountain’s music looks forward, from the past, to a future that does not, at present, exist. In The Future is hardly revolutionary, but paradoxically, it also is the herald of a revolution that is, perhaps, still yet to come. More than anything else, In The Future is a reminder of just how good an older genre of music can be in the hands of the right people with the right balance of skill, heart, and faith in the future**.

HD RATING: 8.5/10

* = A horrible pun. I apologize.
** = Another one, equally bad. Sorry, but it felt right.

EDIT: Okay, so I was wrong. The band actually played Stormy High on Conan, not Stay Free.

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