Some folks aren’t afraid to trade in the hustle and bustle for a more measured existence where every step is calculated and unhurried. These are the same people who prefer long walks in the rain and take forever to cross the street often to the dismay of the rows of motorists in the queue. After all, what’s the rush when regardless of wherever you are, there is a sense that you have arrived, and if you are lucky enough to feel that way you are likely to revisit that corner over and over and cross with the same deliberate pace. Such is the sentiment with Chicago’s Speck Mountain whose space rock pilgrimages are unwavering in their steady presentation. Drenched in minimal, slow and moody arrangements, Badwater, like Speck Mountain’s previous efforts, gives no apology for its intentional pace. In fact it revels in it.
From the opening subdued four-chord guitar riff on ‘Caught Up’, Speck Mountain simmer into repetitive wanderings with musical patterns exploited ad nauseam. Tracks with gloomy dispositions shuffle along replacing each other without so much as a warning that one has ended and a new one begun. Our ears and minds have the task of discerning the subtleties of individual tracks while Marie-Claire Balabanian’s vocals adds a degree of difficulty to the task, her voice entrenched in a particular range for the duration of the 37 minute album. Still, there is something seductive about the simplicity of a three-note motif in songs like ‘Slow So Long’ whose seemingly infinite guitar loop feels more like a surprise evening guest with every cycle. The album as a whole, however, turns the feeling of surprise into contemplation of whether that guest will actually leave. Not likely, as they too feel they have arrived and have no rush to be anywhere but in your ears.
A slight change up in the title track makes for a welcome shift in tempo with what is the most energetic of the lethargic bunch. ‘Badwater’ begins with the promise of a grand build up, but in the end dispels the rumours with a two minute guitar section that is rather anti-climactic and more reminiscent of an experience at a Sunday night blues bar with chillax in the air. From that starting point, Speck Mountain’s music then generally sounds as if a grand explosion is on the horizon, though the tension never really manifests save for the last track. ‘Watch the Storm’ ends with a nice chorus of voices repeating the sentiment, but the storm watching definitely occurs from afar in a safe and comfortable viewing area. The finisher presents a little more emotion than the rest of the album, but overall, it is still a bit of an amble, which is the whole idea after all. Extra points for the ultra cool retro electric piano that appears, albeit too briefly, at the song’s midway point.
“Go forth with careful steps and take the time to appreciate the here and now”: musically, this is the vibe curated by the Chicago-based quartet on Badwater. Speck Mountain remind us to wander around with eyes, ears and minds wide open and enjoy the simplicity of it all.