When listening to Black Mountain’s latest album “Wilderness Heart,” it’s important to get one thing very clear: This is not Pink Mountaintops.
When listening to Black Mountain’s latest album “Wilderness Heart,” it’s important to get one thing very clear: This is not Pink Mountaintops. Yes, both bands are led by Stephan McBean and they do share some similar qualities, but when you start listening to Black Mountain, it becomes abundantly clear that something is amiss.
The album starts out promisingly strong with the oddly titled opening track “The Hair Song.” A country-ish song with a hint of Pink Floyd, the band blends psych-folk instrumentals wonderfully into Southern-influenced vocals, giving it a very open-road feeling. Even the lyrics work on this one, with McBean and female vocalist Amber Webber crooning out the line “Let your love come undone/Don’t suffer your crime/Let the love in your heart take control” in their chorus.
Sadly, from there, the album progresses in a subtle downward spiral. All of the fun experimental elements present in Pink Mountaintops have been traded in for safe, somewhat cliché rock riffs and throwaway lyrics. The band spends most of the album walking the line between ’70s metal rock and this oddly lingering hippy-folk sound.
Besides a lack of perceived authenticity, the big problem with “Wilderness Heart” is that it begs too much comparison to other band genres. The listener gets the feeling that, in a mad dash effort to carve out its own sound, Black Mountain figured they could just throw a bunch of stuff into the mixing bowl and call it good. Several of their songs have some blatant instrumental rip-offs, with the best example being the intro on “Radiant Hearts”—an almost note-for-note reproduction of the intro for Air’s “Cherry Blossom Girl.”
“Wilderness Heart” still had its redeeming qualities. The band manages to successfully blend in lighter happier sounds with a darker, almost metal edge. There’s also no denying that this is a band with a high degree of technical skill. McBean’s voice has a twangy timbre that possesses a certain simple charm and blends nicely into Webber’s charming (though a little over the top at times) singing.
Where this album starts really hurting is just after the halfway point. Songs begin blending into each other and the drama of Black Mountain loses its appeal. All of the pomp and circumstance present in their music feels forced and tired.
“Wilderness Heart” is a good album, but it’s not great. Not enough originality combines with in-your-face instrumentals and a slow creeping feeling at the end that will make you wish the album were over before you’re down to the last couple songs. At a reasonable 40-or-so minutes, it still feels like it’s dragging out on the last few tracks. Black Mountain has managed to create a mediocre work of art with enough promise to keep you interested at first listen, but their music will ultimately make you wish they could just find their own sound.