Question: What do the bands Keane, Noah and the Whale, The Killers, and Mumford & Sons have in common?
If your answer is somewhere along the lines of: they’re lesser versions of better bands; then you’re not the only one. If your second guess is that Mt. Desolation is comprised of members from these band, then you’re also right.
So as I’ve encountered before, with my review of Sharon Jones’ earlier 2010 release, labeling a band as a rip-off is problematic. Sure Keane might follow the sound of Coldplay, but Coldplay also just took cues from Radiohead and U2. You can go down the line for those other bands as well, but the fact remains that it is very difficult to suggest any sort of pure originality in any popular form of music. What differs from bands like, say, Fleet Foxes to Mumford & Sons, is the voice. Not in the literal sense, though that may be a factor, I mean that voice that stands out and says “this song is from x band.” So if I were walking down the street past a patio and the restaurant was playing a new Fleet Foxes cut that I’ve never heard, I would be able to say, “oh that’s Fleet Foxes”, whereas if the same instance happened with Mumford & Sons, I would probably say “oh that’s neat” and then forget about it. But maybe I’m just biased, especially because a lot of people actually do like
Mumford & Sons.
After all it’s not like these bands are bad at what they do, per se. No; rather I have this feeling that these bands are missing something fresh that would put them on the elite level (though you could argue The Killers are, or at least were, on that level). But to be fair to Mt. Desolation, you can’t just look at them as a sum of the parts of these other bands. Because they don’t sound like it. Their new self-titled is a series of alt-country tracks that plow through heady themes of love and loneliness and other Noah-and-the-Whale mused lyrical excursions– okay so some things do carry over. In fact that feeling of “been there, done that” permeates too. Basically Cherry Ghost did this type of thing, but much better, earlier this year with Beneath This Burning Shoreline
. Which is really a shame because the record starts so well with banjos, pianos, guitars and some solid vocal melodies. “Depature” opens the record with a swing and “Annie Ford” has a nice fiddle lead, but from there things fall off by sounding far too cautious– the same problems that plague the band members more illustrious projects.
Right down to the standard long-cut finale of “Coming Home”, which seems to be a popular song title or theme for album finales as of late (or maybe as of the recording age?). Not that I particularly have a problem with the last song being the longest, even if it is conventional– hell most of my favourite closing tracks are the longest songs on any given album. The problem is the lack of difference in the track, which putters along much like the rest of the songs on the album in a mid-tempo fashion with no foreseeable quality that warrants its six minute length. The majority of the album, starting with “Bridal Gown”, despite its nice chorus, suffers from this indifference. Mt. Desolation
never seems to want to go anywhere with these songs; which may be the point. And again maybe I’m unfairly dismissing this because it is not ambitious enough– there’s nothing wrong with keeping things low key. But main composers and singers Tim Rice-Oxley and Jesse Quinn still have to find that voice.
At times it’s there too. “State of Our Affairs” is absolutely lovely in its sparse arrangements, with lilting background strings and light percussion building into a piano and guitar bridge that is easily the best moment on the album. But for this step forward they take multiple steps back: “Platform 7" sounds a lot (like, ridiculously so) like Bright Eyes’ “Another Travelin’ Song” and “Another Night on my Side” apes Rumours
era Fleetwood Mac. Still there might be enough here to hope for better in the future from this “super” group, but this self-title just doesn’t cut its teeth enough. Speak now Mt. Desolation, or forever hold your peace.