By Dave Pehling
SAN FRANCISCO (CBS SF) — One of the leading lights of the neo-psych movement since the turn of the millennium, Vancouver-based quintet Black Mountain brings songs from its powerful new album Destroyer to the Independent in San Francisco Sunday night.
Founder and guitarist Stephen McBean already had over two decades of experience playing with a variety of Canadian punk and alternative bands when he and longtime collaborating drummer Josh Wells came up with the song “Black Mountain” in 2004 and decided to start a new group named after the song. The pair drew singer Amber Webber, bassist Matt Camirand and keyboard player Jeremy Schmidt into their orbit and started writing more songs.
Black Mountain soon recorded the band’s 2005 eponymous debut that mixed McBean and Webber’s intertwining vocal harmonies with the hypnotic approach of modern psych contemporaries like Velvet Underground acolytes the Brian Jonestown Massacre and Black Angels and heavy guitar riffs that owed equal allegiance to Black Sabbath and Blue Cheer. That first album garnered glowing reviews and garnered the attention of Coldplay, who invited the band to open for them on a leg of their U.S. arena tour.
It would take three years before the band resurfaced with its sophomore effort In the Future in 2008 that brought in more keyboard orchestrations from Schmidt (leaning heavily on ’70s style synth, organ and mellotron sounds favored by Yes and early King Crimson) balanced by nods to Crazy Horse-era Neil Young and the more rural, acoustic end of Zeppelin’s sonic spectrum. That album and its sequel — 2010’s Wilderness Heart — were both nominated for Canada’s Polaris Music Prize.
McBean and other members of the band would also occupy themselves with other projects — he also leads his long-running experimental rock project Pink Mountaintops and would found the hardcore punk act Obliterations after moving to Los Angeles, while Schmidt has done all-synthesizer soundtrack work as Sinoia Caves; Webber and Wells have their own side project Lightning Dust.
After an extended break that included the departure of bassist, Black Mountain returned in 2016 with IV, another epic exploration of vintage sounds that takes the band’s past influences and adds new detours into new-wave grooves (the Devo-esque “Florian Saucer Attack”) and droning minimalism (“Mothers of the Sun”). However, the band would go through another seismic shift after the album’s release with the departure of Webber and Wells leaving McBean and Schmidt as the only two original members.
Despite those challenges, the band returned earlier this year with Destroyer, earning the new line-up of the group featuring vocalist Rachel Fannan (who once filled a similar role as Webber with celebrated SF psych band Sleepy Sun) and Dommengang drummer Adam Bulgasem a round of solid reviews. Further integrating electronics into the Black Mountain template with the use of Vocoder, heavier synths and electronic percussion, songs like “Boogie Lover” and “High Rise” sound like woozy soundtrack to an as yet unmade post-apocalyptic biker film.
The band also recently released the more pop-minded, propulsive single “What’s Your Conquest?” in October. For this show at the Independent in San Francisco Sunday, the group will be joined by noted guitarist and singer/songwriter Ryley Walker. Drawing inspiration from the exploratory ’70s British folk of Nick Drake, John Martyn and Richard Thompson (who Walker opened for at the Fillmore earlier this year), the talented guitarist has released a string of albums that veer from storytelling tunes to improvisational instrumentals like his most recent Thrill Jockey collection Little Common Twist that was recorded with free-jazz drummer Charles Rumback.
Black Mountain with Ryley Walker
Sunday, Dec. 8, 7:30 p.m. $20