9. Black Mountain, IV (Dine Alone)
Did I ever miss Black Mountain. In the Future was one of my favourite albums of 2008, and one of the best of that decade, frankly, while 2010’s Wilderness Heart was a cool little departure that steadily grew on me. It was hard to believe six years had gone by, but when a tenth anniversary re-release of Black Mountain’s debut album came out last year, that’s when I truly started to wish they’d return. Funnily enough, it was a favour that the Roadburn festival asked me to do in late 2015 that clued me in to some top-secret news that had me to the point of giddiness: Black Mountain had reunited, and new music was due in the coming year!
Better yet, Black Mountain came back with a record that has them sounding reborn. All the characteristics of their sound are there: an even mix of psychedelia and heaviness, riffs commingling with melody, the stoner drawl of Stephen McBean in staging a give-and-take with Amber Webber’s detached singing. Had they just stuck with that I would have been thrilled, but instead the band raised the bar by integrating more keyboards into the fray. Synths had always played a prominent role in Black Mountain’s music, but always in a late-‘60s, early-‘70s way. Like Hawkwind and Deep Purple. On IV, though, there’s more of an ‘80s element, like Rush’s Signals or Gary Numan’s The Pleasure Principle. It’s a bold thing to do, but that combination of heavy guitar rock and new wave synths works so wonderfully, whether on the surreal epic “Mothers of the Sun” or the hooky “Cemetery Breeding”. There are some decidedly keyboard-centic numbers like “Over and Over (The Chain)” and “Defector”, and then there’s “Florian Saucer Attack”, the hardest-charging rocker the band has ever written. The hazily romantic “Crucify Me” and the dreamy “Space to Bakersfield” are late-album treasures, echoing Mazzy Star and Pink Floyd simultaneously. It’s been trendy for indie music critics to declare rock “dead”, but anyone with eyes and ears knows that’s far from the case. Black Mountain made one of the best rock albums in years, by dipping into three decades of history and creating something adventurous and oddly futuristic.