Review Summary: All the intimacy of a campfire, but packs so much punch that these are more like roaring bonfire songs.
Provo, Utah has served as the roots of the careers of two successful alternative rock bands in recent years, namely Neon Trees and Imagine Dragons. This is surprising since Provo is a small, mountain-lined college town. The next group that easily deserves to be launched out of the town is a folk act called The Mighty Sequoyah, whose influences are clearly more mountainous than college-towny. Unfortunately, The Mighty Sequoyah don’t carry as much mass appeal as their predecessors, but the lack of such intentions has allowed them to create the incredible Sunken Houses, which the band seems to be treating as their debut despite a previous LP release. Debut or sophomore album, there’s no question that Sunken Houses is one of the best albums of 2012 so far, and an absolutely mandatory listen for a fan of folk, or anyone who likes fantastically-performed music in general.
“Mighty” is a highly accurate adjective for the band. They’re able to draw a huge mountain of sound from a lineup that isn’t necessarily huge, with the occasional harmonica and single violin generally being the furthest ventures from traditional rock instruments. The most notable and strongest contributors to the volume are the band members’ own voices. Full chords of belted notes propel many of the tracks, creating a fantastic feeling of exhilaration, easily and creatively providing just as big of a sound that other bands usually employ full in-studio symphonies to produce.
The instrumentation on Sunken Houses is nothing short of delightful . Hannah Matheson’s violin graces the album perfectly and is applied in all the right places, letting listeners know that The Mighty Sequoyah have paid attention to detail and crafted each song carefully. The band also does a great job of using their lineup to create a diverse range of sounds and moods on the folk rock spectrum, from country-tinged ballads (“Call Me Home”) to beautiful, booming anthems (just try not to head-bob during the nearly tribal drum break in “Know You”).
No vocals could fit the music better than those of lead singer Caleb Darger. With just enough rasp, and the perfect aggression for climactic yells, he steers Sunken Houses down all the right paths at all the right times. Darger knows how to allow his performance to seep with emotion that makes the listener feel they can relate exactly to what he’s saying, whether he’s wailing above a wall of sound or nearly whispering as he picks beautiful guitar parts.
The lyrics of the album are beautiful. They often have an old-fashioned, poetic feel. Many metaphors involve nature, and every last word comes from the soul. Opener “Medicine Man” is a dark track, describing an increasingly hopeless dilemma of being stranded in the cold. It starts with a lone guitar, and builds so subtly that it feels like a short introductory track, but actually clocks in over five minutes. By the end, the band is blasting at full volume before the group harmoniously belts “Let my spirit fly on home.” The song is a perfect showcase of what The Mighty Seqouyah is capable of both musically and lyrically.
The album is written and performed so genuinely that there’s a comforting sense of familiarity to it. It’s not that these songs have been done before, or the band lacks any creativity. It’s simply easy to feel all the emotion packed into each track. Sunken Houses feels so natural. It sounds like a gift your closest friends made organically. It delivers all the intimacy of a campfire, but packs so much punch that these are more like roaring bonfire songs.