Friday, September 24, 2010

The hills have ayes


How can one roomful of people be so collectively bald and yet simultaneously so collectively hairy? It’s like being hemmed in by Pink Eyes of Fucked Up, Tim Harrington of Les Savy Fav and the Hairy Bikers.

We’ve all been drawn here by one of the Jagjaguwar label’s leading lights, but first up are one of their latest hopes – and given their roster currently boasts everyone from Dinosaur Jr and Bon Iver to The Besnard Lakes, Oneida and Women, we’re inclined to trust their judgement on such matters.

Wolf People sound just as the name suggests they should: as if they’ve been raised in the woods by wolves on a diet of deep-fried stoner boogie, classic rock and psych-folk. And let’s face it – wouldn’t you want to sound like that too, if you’d actually been raised in Bedford? Opening for their more illustrious labelmates might be something of a double-edged sword, but there should always be room for a band who, with the likes of ‘Silbury Sands’, come across like Pentangle being buggered out of their boredom by Dead Meadow.

It seems Black Mountain are also out to underline their untamed animalism, judging by the title of new album Wilderness Heart. Its predecessor was christened with the curious moniker In The Future – curious in that the Canadians don't immediately strike you as the types prone to forward-thinking, except maybe to entertain, in between hits on the bong, whimsical imaginings of what the world might be like when ruled by giant ants.

Misadventures on the internet have taught me that dudeism is now an officially recognised religion, albeit the slowest-growing in the world, and here among us tonight appears to be its high priest, Jeff Lebowski. It hardly takes a leap of imagination to picture Black Mountain ringleader Stephen McBean sniffing milk in a supermarket aisle or dropping a lit joint between his thighs and subsequently crashing his car into a tree.

But, unlike fellow Sabbath fiends Sleepy Sun, McBean and his companions aren’t really spaced-out peaceniks (‘Stay Free’ the exception that proves the rule, perhaps), regularly preferring galloping riffs that Iron Maiden would be proud to call their own. The opening to ‘Tyrants’ and the entirety of newie ‘Let Spirits Ride’ make us feel like we’re being trampled by the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse.

They remain something of an enigma, though. You wouldn’t catch Maiden all drinking wine and being tended to by a "goblet-filler". Amber Webber – in many ways their secret weapon, possessed of a quite extraordinary voice that is both strong and tremulous – continues to be frustratingly underused, too often a spare part left to bash her tambourine or stare out into space while the Mountain men do their thing. The fact that her mic is rarely loud enough doesn’t help, and has me wanting to urge even more enthusiastically investment in 2009’s Infinite Light by Lightning Dust, her side-project with Joshua Wells. For his part, Wells’ keyboard lines, though often effective in context, occasionally have a tendency to clothe the songs in a dubious star-spangled cape that punk principles would deem snigger-worthy.

Still, you won’t find a much unlikelier Coldplay support band anywhere (yes, they really did, back in 2005) – and if that’s not reason to recommend them, then I don’t know what is.

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