Words by Sean Moeller, Illustration by Johnnie Cluney, Sound engineering by Mike Gentry
Some people just don't do sunny very well. A three-day jag of overcast, moping and drizzly weather is cause for breaking out the bubbly for these people. They dig in as if those days were cake and there isn't any other way they'd want to live it out. Just let it pour, let it stay the lightness of pre-sundown for the entire time you're up and at 'em. Some people refuse to see the advantage of having endorphins touched off just from a bright yellow sun blasting its merriness, broadcasting a toothy and warm as tea grin down on everything in an unbiased sort of gifting. Chicago's Speck Mountain is most definitely a foursome of people who fit the description of those not sold on the benefits of cheeriness - at least in song, on paper. It's a band that has expertise in the kinds of mood-altering techniques that could sink someone in a kind of well-worn and not altogether despicable despair. It would be and us the sort of despair that doesn't last forever and ever, just as long as it needs to and - ask anyone - that's a healthy kind of despair, one that could be useful, like a spider getting rid of insects in the house. This despair could just take in and digest all of the blackened tissue and all of the rotted out shame and angst and turn it into some kind of pleasing smoke, making the scene and the process something of a exorcism, with a fantastically dark and gloomy soundtrack. Speck Mountain creates a feeling that gets associated with a silent, but mighty North wind, funereal associations and basements with old, hand-me-down furniture, cigarette burn marks on the arms, throw rugs covering all and a turntable (always with a good new needle pulling off the rotations) somewhere in the vicinity. It's got a recovering alcoholic sensibility to it - though there's always enough wiggle room in the recovery process to hit up the dingy local pub for one nightcap here or there. Everyone's a grown up here and the drinks can come in handy, when there needs to be a little more hotness shooting down the hatch. Marie-Claire Balabanian creates a temperature that is always collected and plotted out, making a wildfire with sighs of flame and whispers of the same. She's able to say so much without ever getting bent out of shape. There's so much desolation and longing and unspecific transgression that come through in everything that she sings on the band's latest full-length, the spectacular Some Sweet Relief. It's as if she's perpetually up to her shoulders in a treacherous quicksand, recognizing that the more she might struggle with the hardships - fighting them and swinging - the faster she'll be in above her head and then, that's when she'll pay dearly. So she approaches all of the sadness and misery that she finds to write about with a gentle fling and a lovely piece of defeated, yet never destroyed confidence. It's always somewhat reassuring instead of depressing. Not really sure if it's supposed to be depressing. Maybe it is. She's always coming off as the hopeful cynic - even if that's an oxymoron. Speck Mountain is not supposed to be for those who can't turn the glee off - for the woman at the local coffee house who is always radiantly overflowing with perkiness and silliness. It's supposed to be for all of the cloudy dispositions out there, for the in-betweens, for those who would more often than not choose rain over shine, who would - despite their damning outlooks sometimes - give and accept long and meaningful hugs. It's all the relief that anyone has a right to seek at the end of a day - sunny or like the night.