Secret Meeting score: 81
by Joseph Purcell
Eight years on since the release of their critically acclaimed debut, Made the Harbor – Molly Erin Sarle, Alexandra Sauser-Moning and Amelia Randall Meath known collectively as Mountain Man, return with new album, Magic Ship. Packed with exquisite a-capella harmonies, skeletal arrangements, Appalachian folk and hymnal moments of beauty, it is an album brimming with joy and simplicity.
The three friends initially formed Mountain Man after meeting at Bennington College in Vermont. With a background in church choir and singing families, they bonded over a shared love for Celine Dion and the intricate vocal harmonies of a Bulgarian women’s choir. After the success of Made the Harbor, including an extensive tour with Feist, they all decided to go their own ways. Eventually, after Meath and Sauser-Moning relocated to North Carolina, they began to once more spend time together before reuniting to play live again at last summer’s Justin Vernon curated Eaux Claires Music Festival. And it would be this appearance that sparked a new momentum for the three, inspiring them to write and record new material that would become the foundation of Magic Ship.
The beauty of Mountain Man and more pointedly Magic Ship lies in its simplicity. It is a record centred on the beautiful, heartwarming strength of the three vocalists. Their sound is stripped back, and their vocal talents have created an album quite unlike anything else released in this calendar year.
Opening track, Window, provides the perfect passage of immersion into the wonderful sounds of Magic Ship. Less than a minute in length, it sets the template for the voyage of impeccable beauty within.
Following the mesmeric AGT, Baby Where You Are signals the first strains of any instrumentation on the record, as fuzzy, warm guitars fuse on a track fit to rival the brilliance of Fleet Foxes. Lead single, Rang Tang Ring Toon, is a catchy, quirky track that again features the trademark layered vocals over a single plucked acoustic. While Stella – again completely reliant on the trio’s vocal range, before the introduction of deep throat propelled sounds – gives way to sharp quickening vocals that soar and crash. Before Blue Mountains strips things right back, transporting us cyclically to the mood of the album’s opening through a vivid image of vulnerable tranquillity.
The strength of Mountain Man is their ability to not overcomplicate, and whilst this runs throughout Magic Ship, occasionally they do stray- most pointedly on Moon where the balance of occasional instrumentation threatens to unnecessarily swamp the vocals, which are otherwise the poignant centrepiece of a majestic long play.
Magic Ship is an album as unique as it is majestic, and it certainly sets them apart as an act unmatched in their craft. Hopefully we don’t have another eight years to wait for the follow up.