[sic] Magazine

Speck Mountain – Badwater

As difficult as it is to believe, some people just don’t get Spiritualized . The converted sit salivating at every mono-paced wheeze of Jason Pierce ‘s organ work, whilst others shrug off the same shuffle as tedious exercises in misery. Chicago’s Speck Mountain are disciples of this same school of warm neo-psychedelia and, now thee long-players into their career, will no doubt be used to similar write-offs from this same crowd.

Undeterred, and in spite of the addition of Chin Up Chin Up drummer Chris Dye and Linda Malonis – a former Pentecostal church organist – to the Speck Mountain roster, Badwater carries on regardless where previous albums left off. The keyboards and Karl Briedrick ‘s guitar are a touch more distinct these days, Marie-Claire Balabanian ‘s vocal bathed in less effects, but the Speck Mountain sound stands largely unaltered – a true monolith against capricious tastes and forces.

Then as now, Balabanian and Briedrick’s project has always been a subtle one, so their reluctance to embrace wholesale change is no surprise. This is a duo that have previously spent weeks pouring over analogue overdubs in order to successfully synthesise a retro rock spine for use in their work, fully aware their efforts would be unnoticed by most. On Badwater , these same subtleties manifest a little awkwardly, blurring the very distinction between certain tracks, their near imperceptible fades in and out purely a courtesy to demarcate the running order.

As such, there’s a compensatory over-reliance on Balabanian’s dream-pop vocal to elevate the sound celestially. Where this trick works, as on “Flares”, her intangibility could not be better suited to cavorting with Malonis’s organ dither, but in other places she paints herself into too smooth a corner, rendering, for example, the blissful chords and tasteful electronics of the single “Slow So Long” like lounge-lite, thirteenth-floor elevator music on planet Spaceman 3 . The hazy opener “Caught Up” puts her to far better use though, playing her off against the track’s dappled, eyes-half-mast vibe and gentle repeats.

When Briedrick and his guitar however are allowed to hold court, Badwater seems to finally come alive, its hypnotic drone all-too-fleetingly punctured. A bluesy, late-night solo helps raise the title track from its sleepy miasma and “Live It Down” shivers with high-and-lonesome country echoes before closing with a jolt of is-it-isn’t-it surf-rock delay.

Speck Mountain don’t have the storytelling song-craft of Spiritualized to rely on so, on Badwater , have instead artfully smattered their minimal palette with choice borrows from here there and everywhere. As it should, their pervading slo-mo psyche prevails however, the LP ultimately ending up just a little too polite for its own good.

Advised downloads: “Caught Up” and “Badwater”.

~Badwater is out now on Carrot Top Records .~


Speck Mountain @ soundcloud