The most direct way to talk about Black Mountain’s IV is to compare it to other cultural touchstones; this song sounds like this band, this song sounds inspired by this other song, this part will remind you of this other thing, and so on. Battalions of writing majors have died in the great criticism wars debating whether this tool is useful in its real-world application or reductive in its pigeonholing, but it remains an effective way to describe what is, ultimately, a highly personal and hard-to-describe listening experience. None of this shit exists in a vacuum, after all, and it isn’t like the members of Black Mountain live in a space station (for proof, check out this episode of the Celebration Rock podcast featuring Black Mountain vocalist Amber Webber).

With that in mind, let’s get this out of the way now. “Florian Saucer Attack,” with its up-tempo, agitated guitar riff and Webber’s sneering vocals, sounds like something that Sleater-Kinney might have release in the ’90s. The heavy drone of “You Can Dream” sounds like Yo La Tengo having a nightmare. “Line Them All Up” has all the elegance and weariness of Fleetwood Mac. “Defector” and “Crucify Me” carry the same dusty nostalgia that all Tom Petty’s best songs hit so effortlessly. “Line Them All Up” and “Mothers of the Sun” sound like some kind of merge between Torche, Black Sabbath and Coheed and Cambria. At every turn, Black Mountain displays an affinity for rock in all its disparate forms.

Look again at those reference points; listing the bands out, one would have no idea what the fuck this record sounds like or how its songs are supposed to work together to make something cohesive. The beauty of IV is how it bucks these conventional concerns and jells into a record that rewards exploration, patience and time. In an era in which genre classification is more important than ever and in which time and attention are harder than ever to expect from listeners, Black Mountain has made a rock record that defies any easy indexing, which will not unlock itself on any timetable but its own. That should be enough.

Those desperate for a north star might call the record hard rock –a fair enough designation, considering the album’s tones and its reliance on guitar to help create atmosphere. Of course, that doesn’t tell nearly the whole store; it doesn’t leave room for the lifting keyboard melody that carries “Space to Bakersfield” after its winding guitar solo finally exhausts itself. It doesn’t leave room for the pain and tenderness that Webber and Stephen McBean display on the pained death ballad “Cemetery Breeding.” It doesn’t cover the progressive leaning of “(Over and Over) The Chain.” It doesn’t come close to covering the album’s consistent feeling of loneliness, weariness and perseverance. Even the album’s heaviest moments, “Mothers of the Sun” and “Constellations,” aren’t oppressive. IV never aims to crush the listener. Heaviness is a side effect, not the directive. This album lands on you, then keeps moving outwards.

Time slips on IV. Some songs, like the electric, assertive album opener “Mothers of the Sun,” come and go in what feels like an instant. That song is eight minutes long. It could go for another eight minutes and not run out of ideas. Right in the center of the album, “You Can Dream” is a psych-rock dream that swirls and bends its western twang guitar for what feels like an eternity – it’s only a 5:30 minute long song. More than any other song on the record, it might hold the closest thing that Black Mountain has to a mission statement on IV: “You can dream, come on baby, dream.”

Look again at that list of sound-alike bands, that laundry checklist of influences and touchstones. Understand that it is not a symptom of the unfocused. Black Mountain are capable of anything. IV is a massive Western of a record, one that feels capable of anything, of going anywhere and exploring what it might find. It is pioneer music for a time in which all boarders are firm and fixed.

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