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Mountain Movers - Death Magic (2015) review

Mountain Movers - Death Magic (Safety Meeting Records, 2015)

The Mountain Movers aren’t a new band, but one can be forgiven if they make that mistake.  It’s been nearly five long years since their last release and for those that were already listening to them this is going to be some eagerly anticipated news, to the uninitiated - a chance to get in on one of the best kept secrets out there, the Mountain Movers.  “Short Life” starts Death Magic off right, the lyrics “I want to live” encompassing the optimistic if sometimes sullen or downtrodden feeling of the album pretty well in my opinion.  Death Magic has been a long time coming but this fact it doesn’t sound labored or contrived or confused in the slightest.  Lithely drifting lazily along a snaking river of jangling guitars “Short Life” gives way to the slowly building and receding tones of “Before I Get Out Of Bed”.  There’s an almost REM feel to Mountain Movers music as they slowly wander down their own path - examining the world piece by piece as they pass it by, picking it apart and then reassembling it into a tiny slice of existentialist thought, via murky rhythms and hazy smoked out progressions.  Like some sort of fractured fairy tale “Before I Get Out Of Bed” slowly churns, growing and building until the vocals simply slip away into the warm summer night of sound, the guitars beginning to frolic and espouse sweet nothings to the universe in the form of six string strums and eloquently executed clamoring waves of feedback and distortion.  I didn’t quite know how transitioning directly from a less than two-minute long song directly into a seven minute jam would work, and I had my doubts looking at the track listing, but where other bands may have struggled or simply fallen flat on their face - it doesn’t sound the slightest bit out of place or long winded.  Instead the transition allows the echoing ebb of “Floating Holiday” to dreamily slide into place almost without the listener noticing what’s happening.  There’s a distinctive Brian Jonestown Massacre sound to Mountain Movers and “Floating Holiday” is a great example of that.  “Floating Holiday” may have a little less bite and aggression than some of Anton’s work, but it’s got the same ethereal, borderline Lewis Carroll, drug induced hysterical reality quality about it.  Levelling off the run times at a little under four minutes “Floating Holiday” shudders and then quietly slips away with a shimmer of tambourines.  “Dead Tomorrow” rises from its ashes and again brings an almost REM reminiscent feeling to the party.  A playful up-tempo beat clamors along, teamed with delightfully and playfully dark lyrics that make for an extremely interesting concoction.  “Dead Tomorrows” tows the line between tongue-in-cheek play, and a deeply personal outpouring of emotion - musically masked by false and fading smiles that disappear in the bright light of the sun.  The guitar work on “Dead Tomorrow” definitely takes things to another level on Death Magic for me as well.  I’m an avid believer that there’s almost always room for a nice tasty solo, or at least a lead line or break, and “Dead Tomorrow” drives that point home, making several pit stops along its way to “Nightsong Of The Sea”.  Once it begins “Nightsong Of The Sea” slowly creeps along, sounding more like you would imagine “Dead Tomorrow” to sound from the name.  In “Nightsong Of The Sea” a contemplative beat tentatively explores the soundscape inquisitively, along with reverberating and jangling guitars, slowly illuminating the expanses of sound presented therein.  If I didn’t know better and I heard “Nightsong Of The Sea” Mountain Movers could definitely pass for some big British band that I’d never heard of being locked away in the xenophobic musical world of the US.  There’s a familiar rattle and hum to the music that draws the listener in like potent opium or hash drifting through the air, slowly slipping up your nostrils driving you deep into the heart of a dream state perfectly personified by the recycling and decomposing cycle of lyrics and feedback that finish out the song.  “I Watch The Sea” brings some punk swagger of sorts to the table, it’s obviously utilized in conjunction with several other prevailing elements, but the seething energy level explodes in fits of distorted feedback before receding and giving way to a rhythmic chanting of vocals below them.  The cool thing about “I Watch The Sea” for me, is that it’s the least obvious place for the album to really begin spreading it’s wings, but the farther you traverse into the rocky and dangerous terrain of the song the more you’re overwhelmed and assaulted by fits of spastic noise and distortion, chaos and noise, all held together by a somehow unwavering drum and bass rhythm that keeps the entirety of the nearly seven minute long freak-out from dissembling in some sort of high speed come apart.  The more I listen to Death Magic the more I become convinced that “I Watch The Sea” is the best thing on the album.  It’s far too long to be released as a single and I’d hate to hear a single second of the perfected Molotov cocktail of sounds that is “I Watch The Sea” tampered with, but damn would it make one hell of an introduction to Mountain Movers.  “I Watch The Sea” lithely drifts along the razor’s edge of perfect noise rock and out and out sound, the song continuously transmogrifies and mutates before the listener’s ear and is most definitely the highlight of the album for me.  “Stray Cat In The Street” cuts the runtime and the noise level back severely following on the heels of the afore mentioned burner.  Crooning melodic vocals replace the aggressive fits of feedback and sound on the track that preceded it and “Stray Cat In The Street” begins to expound on just how much diversity of sound is present on Death Magic.  It’s a collection of tracks that should seemingly be schizophrenic when you’re listening back to them, like they were placed in some random ramshackle order by the band while on a bender one night.  But the genius of switching things, times, tunes, tempos, emotions and explorations up like this, at least doing it well like this, is absolutely genius.  “Stray Cat In The Street” is really just a stepping stone, moving you along to the dreamy sounds of “Pacemaker”.  “Pacemaker” definitely begins to recall the early album openers, but it also has a larger expanse of sound, allowing it to really open up and evolve as a tune, rather than sticking to some sort of formula or idea of how the songs should sound together.  The dream like tone of “Pacemaker” is again teamed with almost playfully dark lyrics that pass themselves off as more of a joke or parody of things than they really are.  The vocals on Death Magic, and especially the lyrics, begin to really stand out as an instrument all their own, subconsciously setting the tone for a song while lingering somewhere in the back of the mix for the most part.  “I’ve Been Moved” again begins to recall some of those smoky British influences that I mentioned earlier, but it deftly pairs them with an almost country-esque The Band sounding composition.  Paying heed to earlier tunes while still attempting to move things in a direction that will sum up the parts that are Death Magic as the album begins to come to a close, Mountain Movers throw in these delightful instrumental breaks that shine like a sun breaking through the clouds of a fresh rain, a delicate fog rolling and disappearing down the side of a hill and back into the field from whence it emerged.  It’s difficult not to call what Mountain Movers do on these standout tracks as jam music, but I don’t think that does the arrangements justice, I think it’s a lot more than just a jam.  It’s not just some guys making up stuff as they go along and improvising, which is impressive as hell in its own right.  What it is, is people who have written a song and allowed enough space and forethought to allow sections of the song to naturally change and shift, evolve and breathe like a living being while the people playing lay it down.  Or at least that would be my guest.  The fusion of sounds that manifest in the complex and mutating arrangements that make up Death Magic definitely make it apparent what Mountain Movers have been doing with the last five years or so.  Apparently, they’ve been locked up in some sort of sonic cavern perfecting the craft they had already held a near mastery of before their entry.  “A Bird Flew My Shed” brings things around full circle and could literally be the album opener if Mountain Movers had so wished.  It’s an interesting statement from an album that seems to unfold like a piece of origami from track to track.  Perhaps the more down-tempo sound of the song simply worked well as an album closer, but I’d like to think there was a little more thought put into it than that.  The unwaveringly, unapologetically lyrics that accompany it are little more than the half formed words that slip from the lips of a young lover in the sun of a bright morning; whispered sweet nothings of times to come that will never manage to live up to the experience that they’ve just had.  Growing more and more dissonant as it progresses “A Bird Flew In My Shed” closes out with a single sustained guitar note ringing out and brings Death Magic to an end.  Limited to some pretty strict numbers, and after a wait of five years, don’t expect Death Magic to stick around long.  As always there are links to check out the music and pick up an LP or download if you want ‘em.  Enjoy and remember to keep It Psychedelic Baby!

Review made by Roman Rathert/2015
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