What’s the old adage, the sum is greater than the parts? If you’re Mt. Desolation, made up of half of Keane along with, at least in some respects, parts of The Killers, Harvey Danger, Mumford & Sons, and Noah & The Whale, that math just doesn’t add up.
As an English alt-country band, there are very few remnants of most of the bands that comprise this mountainous ensemble (except for a whole lot of Mumford & Sons). One would think the multi-headed dragon built of Keane-style rock, Mumford and Whale-esque folk, bits of Killers charm (via the drumming of Ronnie Vannucci), and haunting vocals courtesy of Jessica Staveley-Taylor would be more triumphant; rather, it’s a triple-edged sword of the bland, the promising, and the utterly rollicking.
Lyrically speaking, “Annie Ford” is a beautiful and simple tale that stands tallest (particularly lines like “I started meeting Annie by the old sawmill/ Wasting time and drinking in the day/ Courting her was easy with her smile like that/ Loving her was easy in the night”). Sadly, its rather bland backing track damages a truly realistic romantic song. “Coming Home” suffers a similar fate. A trademark of this rise in English folk seems to be a sense of abandonment and a stripping away of the sensibilities to the core to create a large, lonely mood. The wailing on this track, however, skips over haunting and turns into bad self-parody. In essence, the group’s decision to live as a folk act damned them into to a potentially boring future.
That last statement, though, shouldn’t be indicative of my hatred for folk or alt-country (be it by the English or by smelly hippies.) Rather, there’s a certain set of expectations you’d have from a group like this based on their talent, a sense that if they’re going to do this folk that the chefs in the kitchen shouldn’t spend several tracks burning the roast. “My My My” and “State of Our Affairs” are at least promising because, particularly in that last one, there’s more life. Even in songs about utter heartache and a feeling of desolation (hey, like their name!), there’s a warm quality bubbling under the morose surface. “State of Our Affairs” even offers a small shred of Killers-inspired New Wave in its ballad-y nature.
It’s when they embrace a more rock-centered frame of mind that things get interesting and that energy stops being passive, working its way through your body in a knee-slap-inducing hoedown. “Bitter Pill” burns with the fire of a slightly older Neil Young in its steady pace before tearing off into a controlled frenzy. “Departure” beats like the soundtrack of a down-home hoedown while simultaneously adding a smiling face to feelings of abandonment. But nothing pummels the listener quite as effectively as “Platform 7”, a straightforward blues-tinged ditty heavy on the piano, where the art of celebrating emotional ruin is at its bubbliest and most insightful, all wrapped in neat metaphors about trains.
That math doesn’t add up. If you look at this as an English folk/alt-country band, they’ve all but failed. However, if you plug it in as some freaky rock group that just happens to explores some rootsy terrain, the songs they make offer more of a reason to keep from completley demolishing this mountain.