Even after several devoted listens to Mountain, the latest album from indie blues twosome The Cold Stares, it can be hard for listeners to fully determine whether it’s origins lie in the realm of folk or hard rock, but one thing is undisputable: it’s a robust glimpse into the band’s modern twist on a classic style of American music. “Wade In The Darkness” and the punky “Stickemup” seem to dwell in the gray area that lies between electrified blues and early rock n’ roll, but there’s nothing retrospective about their mutual lyrical narrative. The biggest theme that Mountain boasts is atonement; atonement through God, atonement through self-awareness, and more than anything else, atonement through the infectious dirge of solid blues rock rhythm.
There’s more than one moment in this LP that will make audiences take a hard look in the mirror at their own lives, but “Gone Not Dead” has got to be the most memorable for me. The music is hooky and full of danceable grooves, but the lyrics are leering and feel somewhat judgmental. Singer Chris Tapp preaches elements of the Christian gospel in “Under His Command,” “Child of God” and “Two Keys and a Good Book,” but his words aren’t dripping with a self-righteousness that would repel non-religious listeners. The imagery that these verses inspire isn’t rosy or divine; it’s grimacing and reflective, like a message from beyond the grave voiced by those who have once walked the road we’re on now. There’s a great deal of continuity between these songs that is reminiscent of flipping through pages of a Bible; with each passage we consume, we find another hidden lesson suggesting how we can right our past wrongs.
The bruising style of blues that attacks us from the start of the record in “The Great Unknown” isn’t as lead guitar-favoring as it is dependent on the blue-eyed soul singing of Chris Tapp, whose voice is as measured and fulfilling as Brian Mullins’ sharp percussive attack. “Cold Black Water,” the fun-loving “Sleeping With Lions” and the heavy metal throwback “Gone Not Dead” would be nothing without his crooning, which is produced much louder in the master mix than the guitar or drums. The music is there to create a mood, but Tapp is there to color it with illustrative content that brilliantly describes the adrenaline-filled emotions spiraling through his consciousness.
I could spend so much time really trying to peel away the riddling layers of catharsis atop elegy atop contemplation in Mountain that part of me feels like this record could have been split into multiple releases and been just as impactful and captivating as it is in this form. At any rate, whether it be the unfiltered, slow blues cry of “Wade In The Darkness” or the powerfully inspirational melody of Mountain’s climactic title track, there’s something in this record to satisfy fans of country, blues and indie rock the same. Chris Tapp’s finesse of the frets is spot on in this record, and alongside the incomparable Brian Mullins these two Midwestern troubadours are cratering the modern blues sound with a style that owes as much to Motor City garage rock as it does the filth and ferocity of Seattle grunge.