Mountain Mirrors Review
by Mark Hensch
As I am sitting here listening to this for the umpteenth time (and trust me, this album is well worth many spins), I find myself wondering what it must have been like the first night humanity lit the newly discovered invention of fire. Picture it: for as long as you can remember, you've been engulfed in complete darkness every time the sun goes down. Weird noises frightened and startled you, and it was possible something would leap out of the blank nothingness and eat you. Imagine having fire for the first time, and having the first clear vision of the night world. Now imagine that as you light the first bough, you realize that it was a lot better without the flames. Now you can see all the abstract shapes flickering and flittering around you in the dusk. Now you don't have to imagine the wild beast coming to devour you; chances are the fire will let you see it.
Listening to the self-titled sophomore album from Mountain Mirrors is kind of like that. I will admit that this review will be terribly biased. I have been enthralled with this band long before I even wrote for this site. The brainchild of a lone Massachusetts minstrel by the name of Jeff Sanders, Mountain Mirrors was formerly described in the man's own words as being "Psychedelic Zen Rock fit for poets, travelers, and seekers." Working through the band's prior discography, one detects a sense of contented and meditative spiritualism cumulating in quiet, bursting joy. These elements are best experienced on 2004's sanguine yet joyous Lunar Ecstasy, the album I consider Sander's best work up to this point.
With this in mind, why did I choose such a morbid and sinister introduction the review? The answer is simple; Mountain Mirrors has tapped into the dark side of mysticism. Now coining his new album "Dark Kaleidoscoptic Heavy Acoustica Rock," Sanders has reinvented has band with new, invigorated purpose. Gone are the smile-inducing trip-hop beats and the brilliantly uplifting orchestra passages of old. Now Mountain Mirrors has taken the melancholy of earlier psychedelica-tinged tunes and added an edge of primal rage to it; suddenly Mountain Mirrors has as much in common with Opeth, Agalloch, or the like as they do with say Iron and Wine. The glimmering rays of tranced-out joy amidst this album's typical sepia tones and dark headtrips are like rays of hopeful illumination in a dark, menacing forest. In a unique twist, Mountain Mirrors take this hope and use it to fool you into a false serenity; the tension will rebuild itself and eventually overwhelm you all over again. This is not a happy album, and it is as if those rays in the forest are illuminating very grim deeds.
The fantastically restrained clean guitar strumming of "Stay Evil" is an excellent start to the album. Suddenly, a thick rhythm section kicks in and washes of shimmering keyboard leer at you off the beaten path your ears are traveling. An entrancing keyboard passage is not be unlike LOAD Records standouts Wizzardz, and the song comes to a surprisingly fist-pumping close.
"The Demon's Eye" is not unlike the older acoustica the outfit has put out previously. Poignant and urgent note picking wanders helter-skelter as a moody piano key entangles some airtight drumming. As the guitar bursts into a rising soar, Sanders' unleashes some of his most trippy and heart-wrenching vocals ever. He sounds like a more wearied version of QOTSA's Josh Homme and I'm loving it. An elegant guitar line briefly sounds like the clean portions of a later-era Metallica song, and the song's closing mix of passionate guitars, twinkling piano keys, bass groove, and orchestra effects vaguely invokes a Danny Elfman composition in my head for some strange reason.
I'll wager that "Karmic Dogs" is one of the best songs that Jeff Sanders has ever penned. The lyrics are blacker than pitch, the guitars wrap themselves in a haze around your head, and the vocals spiral up into a starless sky like wisps of smoke....the likes of which you can physically get away from, but the smell will linger on your clothes for weeks. Catchy and gripping, the song is utterly impossible to forget. A psychedelic freakout mid-song bursts into a cello concert dripping with sorrow, and the song ends on a stirring finale that is very hard to forget. I am blown away by this one.
"Your Time Has Come" wastes no time with a mix of superb piano and straightforward Americana/folk. At first listen, I was intent on passing this off as a song that wallowed in its own simplicity to fairly good results; now, I find myself pondering if it is much more complex than I gave it credit for. Moutain Mirrors have layered "Your Time Has Come" with so many tiny nuances of ambient and crystalline noise it is hard to discern what is reality and what is fiction. The song eventually trips you into thinking it is going to slow and end before coming back with an explosive opus of light and noise. Utterly beatiful.
"Calm Before the Storm" is instantly dark and sad, its potent combination of quiet guitar and oozing cello bringing you down into a sort of sleepy depression. You toss and turn, getting a weird dream of happier times here and there, but the mournful reality is what will really stay. I'm going to stop wasting my breath on describing the interlocking aspects of the song and instead declare it as one of my favorite acoustic songs. Just check out the effortless interplay between cello and guitar and see if you don't add it to your list as well.
The Pink Floyd worship that is "Alone in a Crowd" is yet another mind-blowing track. It is definitely a unique entity unto itself, but the resemblance between this and some of the quieter stuff on The Wall is simply uncanny. To give you an idea of how strongly I feel about this track, I feel that with the right exposure this could be my generation's "Comfortably Numb." Wonderfully sad but always drifting by on a detached cloud of kaleidoscoptic hues, this song was written so well that you won't even notice that it slowly gets more and more wild as things progress. A whirlwind of cosmic dust polishes the guitar down to its bare minimum, and the song ends on a note so quiet that it will resound in you for the rest of your life.
"Deploribus Unum" is one of my (if not my absolute) favorites on this entire CD and if you give it a listen you'll see why. Thick guitar strums collide with deep keys and a sort of hypnotic wailing monotone from Sanders that is really unnerving. A wall of sound hits you each chorus with a charge of emotional electricity that literally crackles with energy. This is the very definition of restraint for effect folks. Listen and see how a master of the craft works.
"Praying Mantis" is an entirely instrumental piece that builds off a swell of icy ambience and trippy keyboard noises into a fiery barnstormer of psychedlic balladry. Don't ask me how one band can craft so much with so little; the song's greatest strength is in how massive it sounds despite the fact it is simple and played straight from the heart. Intensely personal and strangely moving, the song is somehow one of the album's most intriguing moments despite the fact this is one of the most relaxed songs.
Mesmerizing, minimal, and sweeping, the music of Mountain Mirrors definitely leaves an impression. It is a sense of subtle Deja Vu; as I listen to this, I find myself wondering if I've traveled on the path this album conjures in my mind once or twice before. In an age where songwriters are almost fully extinct, I applaud Jeff Sanders for loving music as much as I do; it is apparent with every note he plays that his music is the serenity in his life. Rounded out by an extremely talented cast of freelance psychedelic and classical guests, Sanders lets his Muse speak with whispers, quiet pleas, and sighs. Sparse and hypnotic, this is the equivilent of a night full of surreal dreams. I suggest you travel down the aforementioned path to Moutain Mirrors as soon as you can; I can think of no other album I've heard this year more worthy of five stars.
1. Stay Evil
2. The Demon's Eye
3. Karmic Dogs
4. Your Time Has Come
5. Calm Before the Storm
6. Alone in a Crowd
7. Deploribus Unum
8. Praying Mantis
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