Looking back on 2005, it now seems that you either had to be Canadian (New Pornographers, Broken Social Scene) or hairy (Devendra Banhart, My Morning Jacket) to have had any chance of landing a prime spot on a critic’s year-end best list. Now, here in 2006, an artist representing the best of both the bearded and Great Northern worlds has blessed us with one of the spring’s best albums. Wooly Canuck Stephen McBean, the brainchild behind Black Mountain, has a strong showing early in the year with his “full-time” project Pink Mountaintops and their latest album Axis of Evol.
Whereas Black Mountain was a masterpiece in and of itself, composed of a stoner-metal, psychedelic, boogie odyssey, Axis of Evol is somewhat of the same minus the boogie and substituting some more twang and fuzz. The blusterous folkie opener “Comas” segues into the White Light/White Heat era Velvets resonance of “Cold Criminals” with a power chord drizzle that moves at a sludgy pace, and the noise in it is more like peach fuzz than, say, shoegazer fuzz. The static induced “New Drug Queens” is a doped-up barnburner with that certain ’70s southern fried soul and a pop hook that could have fit in with the best moments of the Scissor Sisters’ debut, rendering it debaucherous enough for those who prefer their rock `n’ roll paired with hookers and blow (and blow on hookers).
McBean may not have been exactly chilling out with the Maharishi but he sure gets his Eastern groove on “Slaves” with a crafty and fluid flow. He also manages to exhibit that with Axis of Evol, that a certain pulse or impetus flows through his musical veins that one would be hard pressed to put his finger on but can nonetheless feel it with the rippling reverb folk on “Plastic Man, You’re the Devil” and the quasi-gospel meets bedroom electro beats via sunshine pop epic “Let Us Shine.”
Never has twang sounded so good in lo-fi. Last year Black Mountain has us breaking out the bongs and throwing up the devil horns at times but Axis of Evol is most assuredly a mushrooms and whiskey affair. One can only hope that all the musicians in Vancouver never get back to shaving.
The Pink Mountaintops – The Pink Mountaintops
The Sunburned Hand of Man – Rare Wood
Skip Spence – Oar