Review : Mountain Man - Made the Harbor
PitchforkConversations that circulate around artists and albums and songs have always been a crucial part of the music experience. That said, the extent to which online chatter and claims-jumping have become more important than actually listening to the new album by, say, M.I.A. or Wavves, is kind of disheartening. So it's a relief to hear a record that's more fun to listen to than it could ever be to talk about. Mountain Man's got its small share of blog buzz, but Made the Harbor evokes, and even seems to encourage, private appreciation.
I guess if you really wanted to incite a message board snipe-fest among authenticity hardliners, you could point out that the three women who record old-timey-souding folk as Mountain Man would never fool an actual mountain man. Molly Erin Sarle, Alexandra Sauser-Monnig, and Amelia Randall Meath met as students at Bennington, and there's a direct line to be drawn from their exquisitely arranged three-part harmonies to the a cappella group sounds that waft through Eastern seaboard college quads. Instead of Depression-era Americana, Fleet Foxes are Mountain Man's best RIYL, and they're sure to appeal to anyone who misses the Be Good Tanyas. The trio, however, appear to have a greater investment in mood and milieu than in crafting a traditionally structured album or even fully fleshed-out songs.
Harbor is their second, but first widely available, release and it collects songs that loosely riff on Appalachian folk in ways similar to those of fellow Vermonter Sam Amidon. Nothing on Harbor is a reverent reading of an open-source song, but a track like "Sewee Sewee" sounds like it was unearthed in a Carolina Confederate graveyard. Elsewhere, Mountain Man refer to "the mighty Mississippi" and "fair young maidens" and ask a lover to "draw me still," a balmy archaism that would sound contrived in everyday conversation, but is pretty fantastic in context. Modern sensibilities aren't out of place, though. "Dog Song" is a provocative three-minute roll in the hay, and "Soft Skin" is frankly sensual both in words and come-hither inflection....full text
DrownedinsoundMountain Man join Girls and 10,000 Maniacs in sporting a name which misleads with regard to their number and gender; Mountain Man constitute three precocious young women from across the United States (one for each coast and one in the middle) who came together in the Vermont town of Bennington, finding they had in common a love of American folk music and a recent history of heartbreak, but with differing singing voices. Thankfully the result of their combined vocal range is the most sumptuous and breathtaking harmonising you're likely to hear all year. While in recent years a focus on vocal harmonies has become increasingly common in indie circles (Grizzly Bear, Fleet Foxes et al) it is still rare to hear quite such a perfectly matched trio of voices. While no member are a slouch in their own right, it's when they join together that Mountain Man really come into their own.
It's a good thing that all three members do possess such vocal ability, because the songs really do rely upon their voices, there being a scarcity of actual instrumentation on the record. In fact the only instrument you will hear is Alexandra Sauser-Monnig's acoustic guitar, delicately plucked or strummed behind the veil of harmonies provided by Molly Sarle, Amelia Meath and herself. While the songs are often both expansive (thanks to natural reverb) and intimate in scale, they rarely just sound bare thanks to the expressive range of the trio and their wordless vocals, which often recall other musical sounds as well as the influence of the natural world; see 'Animal Tracks' where the highest pitched vocalist on the line "How will I know?", trills in a manner akin to both a woodwind instrument or the Chickadee bird, the discovery of whose "...bright baby eyes..." the lyrics describe....full text
MicrophonememoryemotionThe first track of Made the Harbor, “Buffalo” invites you to “follow, follow, follow,” and that’s just what a listener needs to do with this sparse yet not at all bare album: follow the voices in three-part harmony as far as you can, both metaphorically and literally.
Mountain Man formed in Vermont, obviously, but that’s the only obvious fact about this band. Alexandra Sauser-Monnig, Amelia Randall Meath and Molly Erin Sarle sing folk songs, yes, but the music is not simple. On the surface, the themes–nature, female sexuality, human connectivity—may seem easily understandable, but the voices beg the listener to get lost.
The debut album is about nuance, and it would be unfair to label it a “backporch charmer” or an “iced-tea beauty.” While it is certainly refreshing, calming and soul quenching, some songs on Made the Harbor are devastating in their intensity. This is not background music.
“Soft Skin” is one such song. A simple story, perhaps, of a woman enjoying her surroundings: her own skin and the “cool green tiles in the kitchen.” But ultimately, this song is about recognizing and understanding the difference between what we want and what we need, which is a thread that runs through this whole album. The women in Mountain Man don’t just sing, they inspire you to question existance.
Made the Harbor is also about transcendence. In “Loon Song” Sauser-Monnig imitates a loon call, thus becoming a part of nature and not just an observer. If you’re not an ecologist and you’re not sure what’s special about a loon, here’s some information. The water bird can age up to 30-years, lives in a monogamous relationship and is the Minnesota state bird, which is also Sauser-Monnig’s home state. The loon’s call is loud and melodic, and echoes far and wide, particularly over the vast lakes where it chooses to make its home. The loon call in this song is from the mouths of Mountain Man. They are calling to you, the listener, to follow them on their journey. It’s hard not to do just that....full text
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