As we keep saying, experiences and context play a huge role in our appreciation of music. That’s what makes pretense to complete objectivity when talking about music so silly. There is certainly a degree of professionalism and detachment which is possible and necessary, but musical enjoyment is inherently a subjective experience. One of the best reminders of that, for me, was how I stumbled upon Black Mountain‘s Wilderness Heart. It was about five years ago. I was working night shifts back then, sitting in front of a computer and chatting with people into the small hours of the night. The office was empty so I could lose the headphones, using mediocre speakers hooked up to my work PC and a variety of services to discover new music (Bandcamp was young back then and less well known, so these were Soundcloud, Grooveshark, YouTube and their ilk).
I found a lot of music I like nowadays back then. Something about the mood the night shifts and loneliness put me into just made me hungry for music and receptive to a wide range of emotions and vibes. But I’ll never forget when I first clicked on “The Hair Song”, the track which opens Wilderness Heart. It showed up on my related videos on YouTube, as I had spent my time so far that night listening to a bunch of stoner, drone and sludge. I was immediately hooked and, to tell you the truth, I still am. “The Hair Song” is a true rock n’ roll banger, concerned mostly with a great beat, evocative vocals and fleshed out guitars. But it also has this amazing nostalgic feeling to it, like someone recalling their childhood and its strength.
That type of unbridled freedom is what the song is about but the feeling is conveyed in more than lyrics; in the amazing synth tone that lilts all over the chorus, to the power vocal melodies, “The Hair Song” just exudes verve and youthful energy. This kind of ability to wear their hearts on their sleeves is what grants the rest of Black Mountain’s release its strength. The next track, “Old Fangs”, uses the same kind of trick. It’s much more fuzzed out and occult in nature, digging into the stoner rock roots of Black Mountain. But even though it has a different sound than its predecessor, it uses the same kind of direct honesty to make it work. The entirety of the album is steeped in a wild sort of “What You See Is What You Get”; it’s rock n’ roll, it’s in your face and it works.
Which is not to say that it has no subtlety; on the contrary, that’s exactly what I’m getting at. Wilderness Heart is somehow both direct and simple and clever and subtle. The next track, “Radiant Hearts” is maybe the best example of this subtlety. It paints a surreal and nightmarish scene, a world which is our own, steeped with pain, social apathy and personal failure. It uses the same tools of the two previous tracks, namely prominent guitars and, more importantly, the dual vocal melodies of its two singers, but everything is run through a mirror darkly. The lyrics, in a subtler way than the emotion drenched music of the previous tracks, take center seat and do a beautiful job of putting us in the mood which the track is trying to get across.
The rest of the album will ping pong between these two approaches, juggling more straight forward tracks (like “Rollercoaster” or “The Way To Gone” for example) and more subtle ones (like “The Space of Your Mind” or “Buried by the Blues”). The result is a hard hitting rock n’ roll album that also knows how to sneak up on you and hit you with melancholy and introspection. That’s the secret of Wilderness Heart and what keeps me coming back to it. It has a wealth of approaches under its belt and isn’t afraid to mix them up, using its sold rock n’ roll core to spring forward into realms of mental exploration and emotional complexity.