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Saturday, February 28, 2009

Review: Speck Mountain - Some Sweet Relief

Speck Mountain – Some Sweet Relief
2009, Carrot Top Records

Mellow spunk is the word I would choose for Marie-Claire Balabanian, lead vocalist of Chicago-based ethereal rockers Speck Mountain. Traversing the mellow vocal styles of Margo Timmons and Hope Sandoval, Balabanian paints each song with a sweet and sincere vocal brush burgeoning with anima and attitude. Add in the spacey jangle of Karl Briedrick’s guitar and the mournful wash of Kate Walsh’s keyboards and you have the recipe for a glorious work of downtrodden pop magic. Speck Mountain’s latest release, due March 17, 2009 is Some Sweet Relief; it brings new life and vibrancy to the world of moody, introspective pop music.

Shame On The Soul opens the album on the spindly legs of Briedrick’s plaintive guitar while Balabanian comes in over the top sounding like a cross between Timmons and Stevie Nicks. Balabanian and Briedrick are co-story tellers here, with Briedrick handling the unspoken or unspeakable on his guitar. You’ll understand once you hear it. The song is stunning in its simplicity and stark beauty. I Feel Eternal is one of the more optimistic sounding songs on the CD; the hopeful guitar lead soaring through a gentle reverb that suggests a dreamlike quality. Balabanian meets this with a pragmatic and sonically gorgeous vocal performance that may be the best on the CD. Some Sweet Relief has a very repressed blues feel to it that is buried deep in an Americana/Folk arrangement.

Dreamlike qualities abound on Backslider, built on the laconic keyboard of Walsh and ethereal, wordless vocals. This serves as an introduction to Backsliding, a striking piece of sad beauty. Balabanian is the queen of all she surveys here, and rings every bit of pernicious melancholy from the song she can manage; Other highlights include Twinlines and Sister Water.

Speck Mountain is an immensely talented group of musicians pursuing a sound that has to be done near perfectly in order to succeed. The sort of melancholy, ethereal pop music created by Balabanian, Briedrick, Walsh, et. al. can die a slow death for many reasons, but Speck Mountain make you want to travel the back roads of sullen, downtrodden pop with them. Some Sweet Relief is pop alchemy at its finest, creating golden moments for your listening pleasure. Expect Speck Mountain to be with us for some time to come.

Rating: 4.5 Stars (Out of 5)

You can learn more about Speck Mountain at Some Sweet Relief is due out March 17, 2009. Keep checking Speck Mountain’s MySpace page for availability information. Also note that keyboardist Kate Walsh has departed the band since the recording of Some Sweet Relief, and so there is a new keyboardist, Claire “Cub” Haley, as well as a new drummer, Christopher Dye.

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