Band of the Week: Black Mountain

Music Features Black Mountain
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Hometown: Vancouver, B.C.
Members [above, L-R]: Josh Wells (drums), Matt Camarind (bass), Stephen McBean (guitars/vocals), Jeremy Schmidt (keys), Amber Webber (vocals)
Why they’re worth checking out: From dirty horns to heavy guitar riffs, the group's self-titled debut comes teeming with all things rock 'n' roll.
For fans of: The Velvet Underground, Black Sabbath, Morphine

In High Fidelity head rock dork Rob Gordon announces, "I'm feeling pretty basic today—top five track one side one's." He then lists his all-time favorite leadoff tracks. It's a moment most voracious music consumers can easily relate to… discover music, put it into various categories, revel in your ability to do so. Rinse, repeat.

If Rob made a similar list specifically for 2005 albums, surely Black Mountain's "Modern Music" would make the cut. Starting with a funky sax squall before segueing into call-and-response lyrics that frontman Stephen McBean refers to as "a Sesame Street kind of counting thing," the song sports an anthemic chorus the likes of which makes record-store clerks stand tall in appreciation:

"Oh, I can't stand
Oh, your modern music"

Just before reaching the perfect-pop-song length of three minutes—and following some nasty horn blurts—the song appears to have cooled down to an ending comprised of a light sing-along and simple guitar strums. But then, apropos of nothing, a feedback-laden squeal bursts loose and Black Sabbath riffage closes the track’s final 15 seconds. It makes no sense at all, and because of this, somehow it makes perfect sense. At least, that was McBean and his bandmates' idea.

"It seemed like a funny part to put at the end," he says with a chuckle. "It works in a strange way. A happy accident. Sometimes things just kind of linger around, seeming ridiculous at first but eventually becoming set in stone."

Black Mountain itself is one of these happy accidents. McBean and his rotating cast of characters started in 2001 in the band Jerk With a Bomb. But after a few records (and growing sick of the name), it was time for a change. "We played one show as Black Mountain in 2003," McBean says. "We told our friends, 'We're Black Mountain tonight,' which was confusing for them. The show was extra-special and reckless. It was great to start from scratch without new members coming in and out. Plus, it was definitely time to toss that name in the garbage."

Additionally, McBean sings for the band’s much-different-sounding side project, Pink Mountaintops, whose lone 2004 album is a hyper-sexualized, four-track masterpiece Jagjaguwar decided to put out while waiting on a proper Black Mountain release. McBean dismisses the record as "a bunch of quick, easy, mindless rock 'n' roll songs," but he still doesn’t write off any of his musical endeavors. "There are equal amounts of love put into all of them," he insists. "But Black Mountain is the extra special one. Pink Mountaintops is more low key, just a different vibe. One-off shows, short tours and stuff."

With an album-length Pink Mountaintops EP in the works and a new Black Mountain record tentatively scheduled for fall 2006, McBean's musical outlets aren't letting up. With a little luck—and more discerningly-attentive rock snobs like Rob Gordon—perhaps this will bring them more attention. They've already captured the interest of Coldplay guitarist Jon Buckland, whose band ended up taking Black Mountain on tour recently.

"It was pretty strange, but also pretty easy," McBean reflects. "We're not totally accustomed to playing shows outside in the daylight to that many people. It's weird when they're just little dots you can hear clapping. We kind of stuck to ourselves and took advantage of the party rider, getting things like bottles of Jameson and nice gin and red wine every night. It was pretty fun, but we're looking forward to our next tour where we'll play dark rock 'n' roll clubs."

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