Hushed, Sheer & Vibrant – Mountain Man Returns With Calming ‘Magic Ship’ (ALBUM REVIEW)

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It was 2014 when Alexandra Sauser-Monnig captivated audiences as she opened up for Hiss Golden Messenger on their Lateness of Dancers tour. I remember exhaustively researching her to find out who she was, where she came from and where I could hear more. Turned out, she was one third of the once beloved trio Mountain Man, which hadn’t put out a record since 2010’s critically acclaimed Made the Harbor. Since that record, much has changed between the three friends that met in college and make up Mountain Man, Sauser-Monnig, Amelia Meath and Molly Erin Sarlé.

While Meath and Sauser-Monnig both settled in different parts of North Carolina, Meath started the popular duo Sylvan Esso, which no doubt, kept her busy. And Sarlé went out west, until she heeded the call of her two friends who beckoned her back to their fair state. On a cross-country journey, the three of them reconnected and rekindled their creative fire, bringing Mountain Man back together for the first time in nearly a decade. The result is Magic Ship, a new record that reminds us why this group belonged together in the first place, and reintroduces us to the actual magic their three voices create.

Magic Ship is, like a Mountain Man performance, a mostly A cappella group of songs. The delicateness and control of their harmonies is astounding. They’re hushed and sheer, but vibrant. This is the kind of music that can only be heard in absolute quiet and with rapt attention to every detail, which describes most of their live shows anyway. There is not one fussy or overly precious moment on Magic Ship. On “Whale Song”, we get bewitching echoes of Feist amidst lyrics that hint at unrequited devotion. And on the cheeky “Underwear”, we’re treated to a simple longing for simplicity and comfort, told through the softness of an old tee shirt or a pair of vintage blue jeans.  

The most shining moments on Magic Ship come when Mountain Man embraces melody and a little instrumentation. The soft beauty of the acoustic guitar under the chorus of “Slow Wake Up Sunday Morning” and “Baby Where You Are” is enough to make you listen over and over. The dreamy haziness of love seeps through each note, creating a gentle atmospheric layer around you as you float in it. And the rootsy, warm “Rang Tang Ring Toon” buzzes with the excitement of getting ready for friends to come by for dinner.

Mountain Man has given us a gift by joining together again. Magic Ship is a record you’ll want to savor. It will bring you calm and peace when you need to quiet your mind, and it will settle around you like a bed of soft grass.

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