It’s true that our brains are fundamentally designed to perceive harmony. We separate the world out by like and unlike, and we order things based on categories of similarity. It’s what we do, and, in some cases, it happens entirely without our knowing. Musical harmony is one of those things that just happens. The brain already knows about musical patterns. Play an ascending scale for someone, stop on the 7th, and their brain will still resonate at the missing frequency (octave). When it comes to harmony, we have all kinds of ideas about consonance and dissonance, and these are directly tied to our emotional centers… Harmony simply flows through us, and stirs heart and mind in equal measure.
As everyone mentions, Vermont trio Mountain Man doesn’t include any men. What they don’t always mention — Molly Erin Sarle, Alexandra Sauser-Monnig, and Amelia Randall Meath often harmonize like one
personghost lost in the Appalachians, all shadows and dew and shooting stars (even when they’re playing indoors in the afternoon at SXSW).
The music of Mountain Man is nestled in the tradition of American folk, but shoots like diamond dust out of the nest into the high, wide atmosphere. Their songs are shaped by three searching voices, encompassing harmonies and a shared belief in and love of the world.
There’s not really a lot to add. The music is, indeed, ethereal, and it commands your full attention. It has a beauty that speaks of ancient ways of storytelling, and also a vibrancy that speaks to a living, oral tradition. It is both earthy and sophisticated, and, above all else, it is beautiful. Follow me for some songs from their 2009 Mountain Man, a copy of “Soft Skin” from their forthcoming Made The Harbor, and a performance video:
Here’s “Soft Skin,” courtesy of Stereogum:
And here’s Mountain Man from their page at bandcamp:
And, finally, here’s that video I promised: