Black Mountain Wilderness Heart [Digipak] CD

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Black Mountain Wilderness Heart [Digipak] CD. Personnel: Stephen McBean (vocals, acoustic guitar, electric guitar); Joshua Wells (vocals, piano, drums, percussion); Amber Webber (vocals, percussion); Matthew Camirand (baritone guitar); Jeremy Schmidt (organ, Mellotron, synthesizer).
Audio Mixers: Dave Sardy; Ryan Castle.
Recording information: Hillside Manor, Los Angeles; London Bridge Studio, Seattle; Sunset Sound, Hollywood; The Fun Room, Vancouver.
Arranger: Black Mountain.
Black Mountain's 2008 album In the Future was a spectacle drenched in vintage and prog rock bombast that made its title seem ironic. BM's sound owes more than a modicum of debt to big rock's storied past, and on Wilderness Heart they still lean heavily on many of those influences, but have focused and tightened them into a classic rock-sounding vehicle that is more their own animal than someone else's. For starters, they employed outside producers -- D. Sardy (Nine Inch Nails, LCD Soundsystem) and Randall Dunn (Sunn 0))) and Boris) -- for the first time. They also recorded in Los Angeles rather than at home. Amber Webber emerges into at least an equally prominent lead vocalist role as guitarist/vocalist Stephen McBean. Their power as a duet is exercised on the set's opening cut, "The Hair Song," which evokes so much of Led Zeppelin's Physical Graffiti-and-after aesthetic that it feels like a wonderful homage, but the pair's vocals are quite stunning together. They are on second track "Old Fangs" as well, though they alternate, as the band offers up shades of Garth Hudson's organ sound from "Chest Fever" on a chug-heavy, taut modern rocker. What's quite noticeable about these first two tracks is that they are an aesthetic for the album, which features closely constructed, attentive songwriting that doesn't try to pack everything but the bathroom sink into the mix and/or knot the listener's mind with elongated instrumental passages. The moody psychedelic dynamics in "Rollercoaster" are reminiscent of "Tyrants" from In the Future, but the vocal interplay is richer, as are the textured, brief, layered instrumental interludes. "Let Spirits Ride" feels more like latter-day Black Sabbath than BM; it's the set's only clunker. The acoustically driven duet "Buried by the Blues" is a shimmering beauty. The title track recalls the heavier work from both of BM's earlier recordings, and Webber's vocals are utterly lovely and expressive. The duet "Radiant Hearts" is the finest ballad here, with its lilting, spacious instrumentation, hosted by acoustic piano and guitar. The set ends with the moody post-psych number "Sadie," on which guitars, keyboards, and vocals all drift and swirl inside and around one another. BM have upped their ante with Wilderness Heart by concentrating more on excellent songwriting and close-cornered arranging than sprawling heavy rock bacchanalia. ~ Thom Jurek


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