mountain man made the harbor
  • WEDNESDAY, JULY 21, 2010

  • Posted by:

I've yet to see Mountain Man in concert but the reviews of their typically unamplified live show have been wildly divergent&mdash remarks have run the whole gamut from "amazing" and "breathtaking" to "sloppy" and "awkward". The band, composed of three women based in Vermont, performs mainly acapella, accompanied occasionally by a sparse acoustic guitar&mdash the bareness of this arrangement can be a little much for the casual or unprepared listener.

But for all the emphasis on unaccompanied close harmonies, Mountain Man make fairly traditional folk songs infused with a sort of secular, druidical spirituality which veers from haunting to incredibly beautiful, often within the space of a single song. And, again, it can be off-putting to some. The old-timey phrasing ("thee" is used on at least two songs; there is a reference or two to "fair maidens"), the hand-holding, and other aspects of their modus operandi would come off as disingenuous if they didn't inhabit their aesthetic so fully.

With song titles like "Animal Tracks", "Honeybee", and "River", it's unsurprising that Made the Harbor revolves around the natural world, but there is a distinct undercurrent of femininity that occasionally emerges. In "Mouthwings", one of the more lyrically surreal tracks here (also, one of the best), they sing "One day, I'll be my own lead belly/and I will grow a baby/He will move so swiftly to hold me completely"; at the end of "Soft Skin": "Can't you understand I'm trying to be good woman?/Let me go, let me go". (The line from "Soft Skin", tellingly, is one of the few lines on the album delivered by one member, with no additional harmonies.) Folk music is rooted in storytelling and the prominence of the collective female voice on each song here is almost self-personifying&mdash it becomes a character that lives, breathes, emotes, and develops over the course of the album. And that, too, can be off-putting to some.

But mainly, their debut succeeds in all these places. They're unabashed and, frankly, brave to be making such naked music especially now when so many people bury their vocals, lyrics, and instruments under layers of effects and digital manipulation. And yeah, the record isn't perfect&mdash the spareness of the proceedings inevitably comes off as a bit wispy and ephemeral at times which can make it all feel a little insubstantial on first listen and the aforementioned emphasis on the collective makes it hard to feel the connection that we often have with our favorite records. It could also stand to be a bit more dynamic in places as the songs do tend to blur into one another when you hit the middle stretch. Regardless, Mountain Man clearly have plenty of room to grow into and develop their brand of folk and, for now, Made the Harbor hits all the right notes. -ben krusling

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MP3: "Soft Skin"
Mountain Man on Myspace

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