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Posted on March 6th, 2013 (2:25 pm) by N. Neal Paradise

Speck Mountain’s latest album Badwater is the musical equivalent to a sigh of relief. It’s the moment when you come home after a hard day at work to find your dog to greet you, dinner on the table, and a fire already going in the fireplace. Its slow pace and relaxed spaciness make no demands of you – rather, they encourage sitting, breathing deeply, and getting lost.

Even so, that’s just one context for Badwater to exist in, and the only other ones involve illegal psychotropic substances. It’s good for smokin’ a bowl or making out, but it’s hard to see it as appropriate for treadmills or being stuck in traffic.

The team of soul mates Marie-Claire Balabanian and Karl Briedrick are settling comfortably into a groove, having created two albums already under the name Speck Mountain, both with similar musical colors. For Badwater, they expanded a little added a drummer and an organist. New member Linda Malonis used to be the pianist for a Pentecostal church, and her practiced measurement fits right in with Balabanian and Briedrick’s not-in-a-hurry aesthetic. Drummer Chris Dye makes a steady slog through 9 tracks of mellowness with quiet fortitude, and has no drum histrionics to speak of.

Honestly, it’s difficult to pick out particular tracks to highlight, because that’s not the point of this record. Rather than individual moments, Badwater emphasizes mood and texture. Opener “Caught Up” and cap track “Watch the Storm” are particularly hypnotic, though in different ways. “Slow So Long,” the most likely pick for a single, lives up to its name as lulling the listener into unconsciousness. Balabanian’s soft and lilting vocals combine quite beautifully with Briedrick’s ever-so-slightly distorted guitar, but to be honest, this reviewer had trouble staying awake.

“Watch the Storm” is the best offering, and it’s of a slightly different stripe than the previous eight tracks. The last minute or so of the record repeat the same eight bars into a fade-out, making what is probably the most exciting part of the entire thirty-eight minutes. That’s not saying a whole lot, but after nine tracks of spacious guitars, lazy female vocals and synths that make the ceiling float away, “exciting” would be pretty extreme. Perhaps a better word is “spirited.”

But there are some important lessons that can be learned from Badwater. The first is that sometimes atmospherics are more important hooks. The overall feeling of a song has more lasting impact than a lyric or riff that gets stuck in your head. The second is that you need to keep the big picture in mind. Badwater may seem like it is just one thirty-eight minute drone, but what it is as a whole is more important than any particular moment. The third and most critical is not to be in such a hurry. Badwater takes its sweet time getting to where “Watch the Storm” ends up, but it gets there. Granted, it doesn’t travel a very long way… but it’s the journey that counts, not the destination.

Track Listing:
1. Caught Up
2. Flares
3. Slow So Long
4. Coldpoint
5. Badwater
6. Young Eyes
7. Live It Down
8. No Words
9. Watch the Storm

Speck Mountain - Badwater
Purchase at: Amazon | eMusic

Our Rating

65 / 100
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