ne wonders how Stephen McBean did in school. He must’ve done a whole lot of copying. But it’s also probable that he did it smartly, copying the gist and then giving everything a personal touch—making sure that no one could pull out the plagiarism card on him. The difference between McBean and most is that he’s a master copier. He’s led three different bands over the past few years and each, in their own way, is a dense amalgamation of influences. Untying that knot and taking out those personal touches, you have simple referents. The thing that makes Black Mountain great is how much time you have to spend untying.
Black Mountain don’t care much about all of this, obviously. They say so in the opening song on this, their self-titled debut album letting the listener know immediately that they “can’t stand all your modern music.” The synthesized bass on “No Hits” begs otherwise, what with its handclaps and wiggling keyboard melody, but it’s the stunning exception to the seven other rules.
Those other rules include the album’s most overt Sabbathian number, “Don’t Run Our Hearts Around.” It’s McBean at his most obvious, outside of his work in Jerk With a Bomb, but it’s also him at his most satisfying—the riff is enormous, the bass mixed perfectly, with McBean alternating his vocals between quavering and assured. The follow-up, “Druganuat” is a companion piece that expands on the hinted-at sound, adding impressive Bonham-like drumming and backwards guitar to the mix.
“No Satisfaction” sees McBean moving on from Sabbath and Zeppelin to the Velvet Underground. A pounding piano and grinding guitar provide the backdrop for the male and female vocals of McBean and Amber Webber that give the group one of the aforementioned personal touches.
The record’s quick start slows down considerably in its second-half, with each of the last four songs clocking in at longer than six minutes. While each shows an different side of the band and allows them to stretch out a bit, they hardly compare to the energy of the opening moments. “Heart of Snow,” coming after the electronics of “No Hits” seems oddly placed and in search of the lost Animals-era Pink Floyd EP that from which it came. Luckily, “Faulty Times” closes the album on a note of originality, coming down somewhere in between Neil Young and A Silver Mt. Zion.
Uncovering the strands that make up Black Mountain’s debut album helps describe what the album sounds like. What it doesn’t help describe is how well the pastiche is constructed and how enjoyable the proceedings are. I suspect that McBean, at some point, copied this one from his philosophy class: “Plagiarism is necessary, progress implies it.”
Reviewed by: Sarah Kahrl
Reviewed on: 2005-03-01