Speck Mountain – Summer Above
Chicago’s Speck Mountain are Karl Briedrick (guitar), Marie-Claire Balabanian (vocals, bass) and multi-instrumentalist Kate Walsh. Summer Above is their self-produced debut, which was originally released in the US in 2006 by Burnt Brown Sounds.
‘Summer Above’ starts as it means to go on with spectral guitars, grinding cello, farfisa drones and warm vocals. The result is a psychedelic drone, which is shaped by the environment you are listening in. On a damp and dreary day this is a melancholic, depressing listen but in the first throes of spring it takes on a dreamy beauty, which brings out the inner tree hugger in you.
It inhabits the same world as early Spiritualised, or more recently Brightblack Morninglight, but with the vocals of Hope Sandoval, so it’s not doing anything new but what they are doing they do well – but note, not brilliantly. No more so is this apparent than on second track ‘Hey Moon’ where it builds and builds and builds AND….goes nowhere. This is the problem. Speck Mountain produce these swirling washes of noise but don’t take them as far as they can go, the result being an album that lacks dynamics and trundles along in second gear.
‘Girl Out West’ gets my hackles up almost immediately when Balabanian sings “Girl out west I will be clean for thee”. ‘Thee’?! Why, oh why resort to that lazy Kaiser Chiefesque lyric writing? Anyway, apart from that the track is again a beautiful lesson in hypnotic psychedelic.
The rest of the album continues with the swishing farfisa and hammond, wrapping themselves around the delicately picked guitar refrains, with occasional saxophone adding to droning quality of the album. The only respite from this recipe is ‘Stockholm’ which clocks in at a measly 2’18”. Embodied with the spirit of country, ‘Stockholm’ is the first track to resemble traditional tunesmithery and even employs some campfire whistling as if to highlight the fact.
Final track ‘Blood Is Clean’ is a high point, with its chilling refrain “My blood is clean but the devil is in me”. The vocals resembling Suzanne Vega on her ’99 degrees Fahrenheit’ album and this is no insult, but again we are yet to see them reach for gear stick.
So eight tracks of shimmering, dream pop which is pleasant enough but ultimately doesn’t go as far as you’d want. Best listened to with eyes glazed, red and half shut.
Top Tracks: ‘Blood Is Clean’, ‘Stockholm’.
Released 07/04/08 on Peacefrog