Maybe the most compelling aspect of the Chicago band Speck Mountain is that it makes such a sinful awning. The music that gets made by thesefolks spans over top of you like a gray cloud that stands for murder, that spells it in its dismissive chest-swelling, that is out to get people. It's packing a wallop - some mean-spirited winds, a lightning show that will strike emphatically and too close for comfort and rain that will bruise skin as it lands.
It's good to remember too that all storms come to their conclusions, to their demise - though that's only partially true as they just continue on across the land, finished in this particular spot, but rampaging elsewhere with no real diminished ferocity. A storm always drops a portion of its skin, like a snake, wherever it romps and tosses a few chairs, breaks a few limbs, roaring like a hungry lion. Speck Mountain is what happens before, when the birds all shut their traps and the stillness makes you shake a little at all that's impending. There might still be a jar of iced tea sitting on the formerly hot and sunny front stoop, roasting into an amber orange blend that's ready to be imbibed. There are a couple rows of damp clothing on the lines, drying as fast as they can, ready to start whipping like crazy. A mad dash to bring everything inside that needs to be inside - the kids, the tea, the laundry, the pets - is the first sign of caution that takes place just as that calm transforms itself into concern.
Speck Mountain rides the storm in a mood that downplays that concern, choosing to let whatever's going to happen just go ahead and happen. If the electricity is going to get snapped off, they'll spark some candles and demurely celebrate the faint and flickering lights in the darkened corridors of where they are. Some songs are testaments to this pregnant feeling of temporary doomsday, of the lights going completely dead in the very middle of an afternoon, a sight that never feels right no matter how many times you've experienced it. They've made a very personal creepy feeling of anxiety that is held together and made all that much more creepy by its sense of normalcy, as if the feeling of calm collection were something you've had to live and become numb with. It feels okay and then it feels better than okay.
Lead singer Marie-Claire Balabanian doesn't write the kind of acid-spawned poetry that The Doors' Jim Morrison did, but there's a Lizard King vibe to many of the general themes of the blood running things, of familial disruption, of rebirth and of swaying in the balance. Into this house we're born and into this world we're thrown is what takes place as she sings on "Shame On The Soul," the lines from Morrison fly slowly through your mind as the song plays and the rainy keyboard atmospherics silence any and all inner rumblings. You freeze as the music methodically overtakes your every known sense. You'll think you hear every floorboard speak at once and you'll start believing that you're smelling them burn. Balabanian is hiding fur coats at one point and bringing them into the conversation again at another, leading us to think things that we've never thought about, leading us to be absolutely curious to hear what else she and this engrossing new group have in store.
*Essay originally published August, 2008