Mountain Man: Made the Harbor
The 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.
Recorded with just an acoustic guitar and the three singers in an attic and a former ice-cream factory, Made the Harbor certainly feels like an informal and homey affair. Just as you’d imagine, breathing, footsteps, sighs and crumpled paper are all included on the recording. Why omit the natural sound of the process?
Made the Harbor is a unique album, a collection of songs that should fit snugly into your life. And as folk songs are prone to do, these tracks too beg for the opportunity to be endlessly replayed.
Mountain Man: Soft Skin