Archive for the ‘Black Mountain’ Category

[ATTENDED: October 1, 2021] Primus [rescheduled from June 19, 2020; and July 10, 2021]

Three years ago I saw Primus for the first time in 30 some years.  The show was featuring their then new EP The Desaturated Seven.   So, it wasn’t the ideal way to catch up with them, since they spent a lot of time playing that EP in its entirety.  The rest of the set was a mix of songs, with a bunch of songs from Pork Soda and some of their “hits.”  I was a little annoyed by the crowd at the show (when did tough guys start liking Primus?).  And in my post I wrote

Maybe in 2020 they’ll be back for a big two set career-capping tour.

Interestingly, they did come back in 2020, with a two-set show, but rather than career capping, it included a cover of the album A Farewell to Kings by Rush.  If I was there only for Primus, I’d have been annoyed at losing 40 minutes to another band.  However, A Farewell to Kings is one of my favorite albums of all time and knowing how Primus feels about Rush, I knew that this would be an amazing experience.  The show had been postponed a few times but finally, October 1 arrived and I headed to the Met in Philly.

The show was supposed to start at 7, so once again, I left from work and arrived quite early.  Early enough to get one of the night’s posters.  But boy was it ugly.  I didn’t want it on my wall, so I passed (there have been some really nice posters this tour, so I was bummed about ours).  Then I stood by the fence and waited with some remarkably loud and rather unpleasant characters.

In my head, Primus is for oddballs who like weird music.  But clearly they have struck a nerve with an unexpected crowd–people I would never hang out with intentionally.  So that sucked.  But once they got their nonsense out of their system after a few songs, people settled down and just enjoyed the music.

I asked someone at the show if the sets were different every night and he said that Primus always mixed up their setlists so it was worth seeing them a bunch of nights in a row.  Indeed, the night after ours, they played several songs that I would have really liked to hear–although our set was pretty great too. (more…)

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CV1_TNY_05_26_14Steinberg.inddSOUNDTRACK: LIGHTNING DUST-Tiny Desk Concert #38 (December 7, 2009).

lightingLightning Dust is a side project of heavy psychedelic band Black Mountain.  Lightning Dust is a kind of folk version of the band (with Amber Webber on vocals instead of Joshua Wells).  Her voice is full of vibrato (she almost sounds nervous at times).  The songs are simple, as folk songs tend to be, performed mainly on the acoustic guitar with organ backing tones.

“Antonia Jane” is very pretty, especially the tone of the organ that accompanies the acoustic guitar.  “History” has a nice unexpected chord change when the chorus rolls around.  For the final song, “I Knew”, Wells switches to 12 string guitar instead of keyboard–something he says he never does.  The song is faster and more upbeat, not necessarily because of the extra guitar, but it really broadens the sound a lot and makes it even catchier (even if it does give it a more countryish feeling).  And the backing vocals are quite wonderful.

I prefer Black Mountain to Lightning Dust but the songwriting is quite good.

[READ: May 27, 2014] “Camilo”

I don’t know Zambra’s work. This one was translated from the Spanish by Megan McDowell and I thought it was terrific.

The story is fairly simple, although it is revealed via a lot of layers which is very interesting.  It opens with a young man yelling “I’m Camilo…your daddy’s godson” and the narrator being suspicious of this statement.  But it turns out to be true.   This boy is his father’s godson.

The narrator’s father had been good friends with Camilo’s father Big Camilo.  They were best friends until they had a huge fight and never spoke again.  That was (obviously) after Camilo was born.  But in addition to this fight and lack of talking, Big Camilo later left the country all together and moved to Paris where he started a new family, leaving Camilo and Camilo’s mother back in Chile.

Soon the narrator and Camilo became almost inseparable.  Camilo was a few years older and was something of a protective presence for him.  Even the narrator’s older sister was infatuated with him.  In fact, even the narrator’s father liked him, although he did remind him a bit too much of Big Camilo.  The one difference was that Big Camilo (and the narrator’s family) loved soccer, but Camilo didn’t know a thing about it. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: BLACK MOUNTAIN-Live at Sasquatch, May 30, 2011 (2011).

The previous Black Mountain live show I downloaded from NPR was a real disappointment.  For me the major problem was Amanda Webber’s voice–she applied a really harsh vibrato to the end of every single line.  It was so pronounced it sounded almost like a stutter.  I found it very distracting.

She doesn’t do that here, which automatically makes this set 100 times better (she has a minor vibrato on a few places, which is totally fine).  This Sasquatch concert covers songs from all three of their albums, which really showcases the diversity they explore within their trippy, space-rock, metal sound.  It works like a (brief) greatest hits for the band.

And the band sounds comfortable and fresh in this live setting (the guitars are fantastic and the keyboards add a wonderful spacey feel to the mix).  The two tracks of “Wucan” and “Tyrants” is particularly amazing; it’s interesting that they play four songs from their middle album and only three from their most recent.

Regardless, this release has won back my faith in Black Mountain live.

[READ: July 13, 2011] “The Gourmet Club”

I’d never heard of Tanizaki before and I haven’t really read that much Japanese fiction.  This translation by Paul McCarthy was really fantastic, and I never felt like I was reading a translation.

When I started this story (the first fiction from Lucky Peach), I was concerned that it was going to be the same kind of story as Neil Gaiman’s “Sunbird” (I realize “Sunbird” was published much later than “The Gourmet Club” originally written in 1919), but I’m glad it didn’t.

Essentially, this story focuses on five Japanese men who live to eat.  They are Epicurean to the highest degree, eating only the best at least once a day and often to bursting.  They go through all of the restaurants in Japan, traveling across the island to find new foods.  But they soon reach the end of their new food options. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: BLACK MOUNTAIN-Live at the Rock n Roll Hotel, Washington DC, February 19, 2008 (From NPR) (2008).

I’ve really enjoyed the two Black Mountain CDs that I have (I’ve yet to hear their debut). Their blend of psychedelia and Black Sabbath is always interesting, especially when singer Amber Webber adds her great harmonies (and leads) to the proceedings.

So it’s astonishing that Webber herself is the sole reason that I can’t listen to this show.

The band sounds great.  The musicians are right on, and the energy is good. But I can’t imagine what possessed Webber to sing the way she does.  At the end of every sung line, she ends with a vibrato that is not so much vibrato as it is staccato.  I thought it was an odd affectation to increase the psychedelicness of the first song, but she does it on every track, even when she sings lead!

Holy cow, is it ever annoyin-in-in-in-in-ing.

There are tracks when she doesn’t participate, and those are fine.  There’s also a song that is mostly instrumental and that sounds great.  But as soon as she starts singing, the whole thing goes downhill.  She doesn’t sing like that on the records, so what ever made her think that was a wise choice for a live show?   To add a really obscure reference, she sounds not unlike Diamanda Galás during her Plague Mask recordings–but that was an operatic style befitting her over the top recording.  It simply doesn’t work here.

Even Bob Boilen, normally an ecstatic reviewer of the shows he hosts seems put out by them.  He says that the band never set up a rapport with the audience.  That’s not exactly true as they do thank everyone for coming out on a Tuesday night.  But there didn’t seem to be a lot of warmth shared between everyone.

Stick to the studio albums!

[READ: March 19, 2011] Half a Life

This book is a memoir by novelist Darin Strauss.  And it opens with the fairly shocking revelation: when he was 18, he killed a girl.  She was a fellow classmate in the grade below his.

He and some friends were driving to a of social event (they were all sober).  She was riding her bike with some friends on the same road.  He saw her, but he was in the left lane, so he wasn’t too concerned and then suddenly she swerved over two lanes and into his windshield.  She died soon after.

He was completely absolved of all blame: police, eyewitnesses, even her family (oh my god, her family), everyone agreed that it was not his fault at all, there was nothing he could have done.  And yet, as he puts it, because of where he was, a girl is now dead.

The rest of the book details how, at 18, one can learn to cope (or not) with the unthinkable.   He has to finish school and prom with all of the kids in his small Long Island town who know that he killed a classmate.  He also can’t stop thinking about her and wonders how he can go on with his life when she won’t be able to do the same.

It’s an emotionally riveting story and I was utterly empathetic.  Not that I’ve had any kind of experience like that, but (especially) now that I have children, I can’t imagine how I would react to such news.  And since Strauss is a sensitive individual I can imagine at how that would eat away at you forever.

By the second half of the book, something newly unthinkable has happened; her family is suing him for $1 million.  Which he obviously doesn’t have.  This trial–and remember he has been exonerated by everyone–lasts on and off for 5 years, all during his college.  And, of course, this isn’t something you tell people–he doesn’t want anyone at college to think of him as a killer–so there’s pretty much no one he can talk to.

The events of the story happened in the 80s.  Strauss has gone on to be a succesful novelist (although I hadn’t heard of him before this book). He also has a family of his own.  Writing this book was his way of trying to cope with this incident that really defined his life.

It’s hard to say much more about the book.  It is really powerful and a simply horrifying thing to consider.  Strauss is a very good writer who never plays for sympathy (he even sides with her family in the beginning). The book is also a remarkably fast read.  Many of his chapters are one or two paragraphs, and you can finish it in a couple of hours.  But that’s also because the story is so gripping.

For ease of searching I include: Diamanda Galas

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SOUNDTRACK : BLACK MOUNTAIN-Wilderness Heart (2010).

As the Tea Party showed, it’s never too late to pay tribute to Led Zeppelin.  Of course in 2010, it seems really uncool.  So, why not go whole hog?  The opener, “The Hair Song” sounds uncannily like Led Zeppelin, from chord structure to guitar sound.  And then just wait until after a verse or two and you get the guitar solo which comes straight from a Led Zep song.  And, amusingly enough, the duet vocals of Stephen McBean and Amber Webber combine to sound an awful lot like Robert Plant.

It may not be fair to compare them to their forebears, but they seem so intent upon referencing them.  “Old Fangs” sounds a ton like Buffalo Springfield’s “Mr. Soul” (at least they’re fellow Canadians).  But the wonderfully 70’s-style sound of the keyboards raise the track above any mere copycat.

“Radiant Hearts” is a gorgeous acoustic ballad where you can really appreciate the split vocals of McBean and Webber (and which should make you go back to the first two songs to really listen to how great they sound together.  This is that rare ballad that doesn’t feel like a kind of sell out track.

“Rollercoaster” returns to the 70’s-lovin’ with a monster riff (and a solo) that Tony Iommi would be proud of.  But rather than simply bludgeoning us, the riff stops in its tracks and then slowly builds itself back up.  “Let Spirits Ride” moves out of the 70s and sounds a bit like a Dio riff circa 1983.  But there’s some cool psychedelic vocal processing on the bridge (and a massive organ solo) to really mess with your retro time frame.

“Buried by the Blues” is followed by “The Way to Gone.”  They’re both folkie songs (although “Gone” features a re harder edge).  After the heaviness of the first half of the album , these tracks seem like a bit of surprise but they match the album’s retro feel very nicely.  “The Space of Your Mind” reminds me in many ways of Moxy Fruvous’ “The Drinking Song” (you won’t see that reference too much to this album).  Until the chorus comes in, when it turns into something else entirely.

But it’s not all mellow for the end. The title track has some heavy riffage (and great vocals by Webber–she reminds me of some of the guest vocalists on The Decemberists’ The Hazards of Love, although she really sounds like any number of great 70s rock vocalists).  I love the way the track ends.  The disc ends with “Sadie” another folk song (which makes the album half delicate folk tracks and half heavy rockers). It’s a fine song, but the album is kind of ballad heavy by the end, and the teasing drums and guitars just never bring forth the climax I was looking for.

Despite the obvious homages to classic rock bands, (if you can get past that, the album actually sounds fresh (or maybe preserved is a better word) and strangely original.  Like the preposterous cover, the album is preposterous–over the top and crazy.  Yet unlike the cover, the pieces all work together to form a compelling picture.  Obviously it helps if you like classic rock, but there’s nothing wrong with good classic rock, now is there.

[READ: February 14, 2011] Literary Lapses

Despite the cover picture above, I actually downloaded this book from Google Books (and the cover of that one was boring).

So, obviously, reading the biography of Stephen Leacock made me want to read some of his humorous fiction.  True, I also wanted to read Mordecai Richler, but his books are much longer and I wanted this done by the end of February!

So, according to Margaret MacMillan, it is this book, specifically the first story, “My Financial Career,” that solidified Leacock’s reputation as a humorist.  And I can totally understand what she means (without having read the other books, of course).  “My Financial Career” is indicative of the others stories: not laugh-out-loud funny, but clever, kind of silly and very smile-inducing.  The gist is that the narrator is very nervous about going into a bank with his large amount of cash ($56!).  He asks to speak to the manager who thinks he’s Very Important and then proceeds to embarrass himself further. And further. It’s quite amusing.

“A Christmas Letter” is one of my favorite in the book.  It’s a very snarky look at a friend’s Christmas Party, with a great punchline.  And stories like “How to Make a Million Dollars” or “How to be a Doctor” are wonderfully amusing tales in which the narrator mocks the wealthy and “professionals.”

There are 42 stories in this book, so there’s bound to be a few clunkers.  Some were mildly amusing, some were mere trifles, and some are crazily out of date for a 2011 audience.  This book turned 100 years old last year.  (Neat). (more…)

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[WATCHED: August 26, 2010] Everything’s Gone Green

I’m including this film because it was written by Douglas Coupland (and he’s one of those writers that I read a lot).

Everything’s Gone Green is a story of suburban life in Vancouver.  As the film opens the main character gets dumped by his girlfriend and loses his job.  And he hasn’t won the lottery (this sequence with his family is hilarious).  However, calling the BC Win line (is this what you do when you win the lottery?) gets him a job at the BC lottery.  [This entire job and company absolutely fascinated me.  It was an excellent location for a film].

From there the movie settled into Douglas Coupland territory: scenes from Vancouver, working in a cubicle, scenes from Vancouver, unattainable love, scenes from Vancouver, the Asian community of BC, and more scenes from Vancouver.

We had recently watched the TV series of JPod (based on his book).  Steph Song from JPod is in this film (and it’s nice to see her with a different type of character).  But what’s surprising (or maybe it’s not?) is how much of this film he recycled into JPod (or actually, they seem to be written concurrently, so I’m not sure which came first). (more…)

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black-holeSOUNDTRACK: BLACK MOUNTAIN–In the Future (2008).

black-mountainAn ironically titled disc, surely.  Black Mountain is a Vancouver-based band that specializes in 70’s era psychedelia with a heavy dose of Black Sabbath.  Yet, like Dungen or other bands that tread this “revivalist” style, they don’t mimic the sound..they definitely sound contemporary, but the vibes of the 70s are constant.

Black Mountain features two singers: Stephen McBean and Amanda Webber.  Webber’s voice in particular harkens back to an amalgamation of Grace Slick of Jefferson Airplane, Nancy Wilson and the collective voice of Fleetwood Mac. McBean sounds like several singers of the era too.

“Stormy High” opens the album with the best Black Sabbath riff that Sabbath never wrote.  It sounds like something straight out of Sabotage.  “Angels” slows things down into a kind of Bad Company vibe, complete with trippy 70s keyboards in the middle of the song.  “Wucan” sounds more contemporary (the vocals in particular remind me of something, but I can’t place it) and “Stay Free” is a nice acoustic ballad.  “Queens Will Play” gives Webber the spotlight and the song in particular sounds like a wonderfully creepy take on Fleetwood Mac.

Although some of the songs are longish (6-8 minute), most of them are fairly brief.  Except, of course, for the 16 minute “Bright Lights”.  I think it’s fair to say that 8 minutes could be cut off of this song and it would still be great.  The middle riff-tastic part is really fantastic, but the opening and the noodley keyboard solo could easily be lopped off.

The disc also came with a bonus disc of 3 songs.  Each one adds to the mythos of this fascinating band.  I’m curious about their debut release as well.

[READ: November 8, 2008] Black Hole

My friend Andrew loaned me this book.  I had recently read an interview with Charles Burns in The Believer (and more abou that in a moment), which excerpted this book.  It looked really good, but then I promptly forgot about it.  And Andrew filled in the gap for me.

Charles Burns’ work appears in astonishingly diverse places.  I know him mostly because he is the cover heavy-metalartist for The Believer, (his interview in that magazine is pretty great) and his been since its inception. But I also know him from the early 80s when he was an artist with Heavy Metal magazine–when I did a search for this magazine, this was one of the results, and I distinctly remember it being in my magazine collection (gosh, some 25 years ago?). (more…)

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