By Cody Mello-Klein
Honestly, soundtracks have never been my favorite part of films. Oftentimes I feel as if they are merely a selection of pop tunes that have nothing to do with the feel or theme of a movie and have been used in an attempt to boost sales for record labels. In fact, I could probably count the soundtracks I have actually liked on one hand. It is because of this that I hesitantly pressed play on the first track of the Vancouver band Black Mountain’s soundtrack for Year Zero, a surf film due out this year.
However, it became immediately apparent to me that my worries had been misplaced, for as I listened to this album I transported back through time to a place before time. Black Mountain has so effectively captured the concept of the film’s title that not only does this not seem like it should be in a film but it feels like it should not even exist in this modern day. With the opening track “Phosphorescent Waves,” swirling synths and a pulsing bass drum take the listener to a primeval Earth where oceans cover the globe. The synths, combined with the eerie, Debbie Harry-like vocals of Amber Webber, create the effect of waves crashing overhead. Recalling 80’s art rock and maybe even the soundtrack to the 2011 neo-noir Drive, this first track initiates a metaphor that is perfectly apt for this album: the wave.
Tracks build and build only to smash down in a chaotic yet seemingly natural way, an effect that is most clearly captured in “Bright Lights,” the 13 minute second track on this album. Shifting seamlessly from spacey synths interjected with echoing guitar lines and vocals to hard driving riffs that recall Wolfmother or Led Zeppelin and back again, this track, and indeed most of this album, takes the listener on a journey through time and space. Quiet synths accompanied by crackles and pops from swirling guitars transports the listener to the cosmos, yet before long the explosion of the full band breaking into a heavy riff-driven groove drives the listener into the Big Band and beyond.
Although this overarching musical journey is quite interesting in its own right, the instrumentation on this album is quite interesting as well with synths, distorted guitars, primal drumbeats and bass all mixing together. All of this is mixed perfectly in order to create an atmosphere that is always changing and evolving.
However, the most interesting part of the instrumentation is perhaps the vocals, for the dynamic that exists between Stephen McBean and Amber Webber is a bizarre one. While McBean strays towards more raw, oftentimes off-pitch vocals, Webber is in complete opposition with a voice that can lift to angelic heights but also whisper in your ear. Embodied on tracks like “Bright Lights” and “Modern Music,” the most bizarre track on the album as it combines Motown horns with Iggy Pop-like vocals, this dynamic allows the band to shift between different moods. And moods are really all that these vocals capture, as the lyrics are not important as the atmosphere that the vocals create.
Punctuated throughout by the whispered philosophical lyrics of Webber (like on the quietly intense “Embrace Euphoria”), this album delves into the deepest, most primal part of the human soul. Chemistry, creativity, atmosphere: Black Mountain has it all on display here. However, most importantly, Black Mountain does not shy away from chaos or nothingness, instead they embrace it wholeheartedly, bringing us back to a time before time, “year zero.” We too are enveloped in this return to chaos, to nothing and in the process we are forced to face our inception and our demise.