Marhofn 183.10 - May 2008

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Black Mountain

We can enjoy music in some ways like walking the hills. Sometimes it can be hard work, boring and repetitive, and sometimes a joy that transcends all others. There is the comfort of familiarity or the excitement of new discovery, and with it a thirst for more. Returning to old haunts is a pleasure, and we like to pore over album sleeves and old maps. In practice, I listen in my car on the way to the start, but prefer the sounds of nature on the hill. A feeling of deja vu sometimes comes to me in a glen or wood, often triggered by the smells of pines or grass. These are usually warm memories of bothy fires and tents and sheltering from the rain under trees. A closeness to nature emphasised when the body is tired and hungry. One smell has a scary resonance for me; that of earth and heather pressed to your face, encountered when off-route in high places, hanging on with fingernails filled black. Likewise, a long-forgotten song appears, and images of people and places spring out: In Dreams, Slugain Glen, Redbone Gardyloo Gully, Neil Young, Gerry's hostel.

A recent album by the Vancouver band Black Mountain called In the Future produces a mixed reaction in this regard. As with anything new in the arts, I have a perhaps unfortunate habit of looking for similarities with bands from the past. I justify this as a means of assessing whether to give the piece a second chance. As with whisky, women and town centres, this is not really a reliable methodology, but I am too old to change my ways now. In the Future caught me off guard, if a silvery disc can do that. My impressions were at first of mediocrity. I was getting whiffs of curries and wet ventile jackets, all-night parties and hung-over Sunday scrambles. Yes, I was back in the 70s, with Black Sabbath and Pink Floyd, David Bowie and Atomic Rooster. But the song was not the same. Have Lemmy and Peter Hammill been resurrected to play again? I am being unfair; these songs will endure, at least on my MP3 player. As with smells, each song has the potential to echo a memory, except these songs are new, so the illusion is false.

The variety of styles across the album is like listening to a compilation of different artists. It could be argued that this means everyone will find tracks to skip, but I found a consistency worthy of applause. I'm afraid that John Peel would have given a thumbs down, but then again, he played the likes in his early days. I like it, and recommend it if you agree with any of the above.

Bert Barnett


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