by Matt Rector
It has been four years since Mountain Man released their album Made the Harbor. Three girls with three names (Amelia Randall Meath, Alexandra Sauser-Monnig, and Molly Erin Sarle) attending Bennington College in Vermont combined their voices to create ethereal, alluring harmonies.
Years ago, when walking in the woods early in the morning, I spotted what appeared to be a small, delicate flower made of glass near my feet. Later I learned what I had seen was called a “frost fower,” a natural phenomenon that depends on a unique set of circumstances existing in the right place at the right time to create something rare, fragile and remarkably beautiful. Sometimes this type of thing happens with singing groups. Some voices sound magical together. Record producers and performers have tinkered with the alchemy for decades, but the results can’t be duplicated in a laboratory environment. Mountain Man is a real frost flower.
It’s not just their sweet but haunting vocals. Made the Harbor was recorded in an antique ice cream parlor with walls covered in pink tile. The echoes make every song sound as if the girls are approaching through the tunnel that leads to and from the subconscious. The impressionistic lyrics, too, sound like something a child might mumble in their sleep. Many of the songs defy conventional structure; no chorus, no repetition, just an evolving musical conceit sprawling out and abruptly ending.
Take the unabashed, urgent femininity of “Mouthwings”:
All of them inside my mouth
Have grown and flown south
One day I’ll be my own wet belly
And I will grow a baby
Oh he will move so swiftly
To hold me completely
All of them I’ve pushed into the air
All of them will be with me
When we are safe in the salty caves
The imagery is sometimes sensual without being sexual, as in “Animal Tracks”:
And the sweat will roll down our backs
and we’ll follow animal tracks
to a tree in the woods
and a hole in the leaves we’ll see
the bright baby eyes of a chickadee
And sometimes sexual without being solicitous, as in “Soft Skin“:
We were sleeping wet and tight in our iron bed
Pictures shake and fall from the wall to the hard, hard floor
We shake and fall from the wall to the hard, hard floor
We’re so wet and we’re so tight
Beat me down into the floor tonight
Maybe you have heard of Mountain Man. Their record caused something of a stir on the internet and on public radio. Over the past four years they have played festivals, toured with The Decemberists and Feist and recorded a song with Alt-J. They have leaked out a couple new songs and some videos of their performances (check out Meath’s adorable dancing in this clip of “Play It Right”). They have already wandered off into a litany of side projects and loose affiliations. Is another album in the works? The more produced, more calculated recording they seemed destined for after Made the Harbor? Are they just building up buzz the way young rappers do before the big one finally drops? Or is their destiny just to have their voices serve as Garfunklian instruments for a bunch of other more ambitious, less elemental artists?
I’m willing to follow wherever this thing goes, but I hope these girls realize what they may be capable of. I hope they keep making two minute songs with no hooks that they wrote in their dreams; songs that feel like they might fall apart with too much structure or instrumentation applied to them. I hope they know that the three of their voices together create a frost flower they should protect from the sun for as long as possible.