I suppose it’s appropriate to start with Black Mountain in the singles club mania that hit this month since it’s the first record Sub Pop has offered that’s worth keeping for all-time. There have always been mixed emotions with Black Mountain. What they do in theory is pretty righteous, just not all that original. After sympathetically loving the self-titled record, I’ve slowly warmed to the sprawling In the Future, again for what it represents in theory: a chugging monolithic slab of doped-up psych-metal. Small doses, like the extended 12-inch for “Druganaut,” is all one really needs, and this new entry is a welcomed, almost playful diversion from the norm. “Lucy Brown” is the most upbeat song on the subject of heroin in some time. They instantly get groovy and lethargic with the line “Ain’t it a drag when your mother/finds your pills and your stash” and the boogie that leads it can easily be taken in both light and dark tones. I’ve always thought that Stephen McBean and Amber Webber had a wonky chemistry similar to Royal Trux, and here the two stir a drug-funk that struts with a junkie slouch. Only Black Mountain are from Canada, which makes it no surprise that on this short-player they turn directions with a cheeky amount of synths, recalling countrymen Saga’s “On the Loose,” on the space-age “Shelter.” Novel indeed, yet McBean does possess an innate sense of pop, and “Shelter” or the loose-ends of “Lucy Brown” could, in passing, be mistaken for British Columbia’s thrift-store Cars.
What a year for Central Ohio! What a year for Columbus Discount Records! But where did it all begin? From what’s been re-discovered this year, it appears all roads lead to Harrisburg. Mike Rep, the Harrisburg figurehead, has always been around. His stuff is (somewhat) readily available, but 2008 brought Tommy Jay’s Tall Tales of Trauma, the Magna Carta of the commune, and now comes CDR’s November selection for their singles club, The Harrisburg Players’ Volume One, a corner torn from the small town’s Dead Sea Scroll. “Recorded somewhere between 1798 and yesterday by Harrisburg-area musicians and their cohorts,” reads the liner notes, further blurring or making clearer the dirt-weed mysticism of the body of work they created (and are still creating). Everyone who hasn’t already, get their due on this four-songer, and everyone collaborates. Tommy Jay’s “No Place” is certainly a logical beginning for this occasion, never knowing where to fit in his Lou Reed talk-sing chronicling the chasm between new waves and punkers. As a folksy anthem it’s in neither camp, but somehow retains the weirdness of both. It’s an intimate contrast to the spiritual fervor in the closing track, T.A. Lafferty’s “Take it To the Father,” fed with a similar riff that revels like a cult mass in the tavern at the end of the world. You’d think the strangest moment would come from the infamous puck of the collective, Nudge Squidfish, but instead his “Jess” is a near-heartwarming honky-tonk ballad that still manages to slur in creepiness during the last line. Somewhere along the stretch, a night got out of control and the General recorded “I Did It,” and I’m sure in the vaults there’s a ton of this improvised basement mayhem—catchy, unrefined, intuitive, and drunk. Thank CDR for re-documenting this treasure. These are records that can’t come out fast enough.
Kevin J. Elliott