At the tail end of 2014, acoustic trio Mt. Thelonious released a digital EP called Other People's Music
, and as the title suggests, the folk group took a swing at several rock and alternative staples it had no hand in originally composing. Songs by the Police, Radiohead, the Pixies and the Rolling Stones were recast for acoustic guitar, double bass and violin.
Tellingly, however, Mt. Thelonious used the excursion not as a means to rock out but as a way to peel into the soft, fertile core of these well-worn tracks. The three-piece takes a similar approach to structuring its own songs for its second full-length, using patience and persistence to build tension organically, ranging from the strummy, reel-like "Run" to the communal, all-in choruses on "The Prayer."
Opening track "Word Grenades" takes on the air of a desperate lover's plea, and the eight-track album carries that tone and spirit on the back of Ian Lubar's words and performance. For "I'll Go On With You," Mark Wallace uses his upright bass less to drive the rhythm and more to add a sliding, swooping counterpoint, and Alyssa Avery follows suit with far-off, keening violin lines. Like many songs here, it's in no hurry to rush through itself, and its subtle crescendo gives Lubar room to show off the potency of his voice. As a lyricist, though, he manages to both undersell and oversell his devotion: "I've been meaning to tell you, I think you're pretty swell / And I will stand with you unto the gates of hell." It's one of a few clumsy lines on the album, but you never doubt the sincerity or intensity of Lubar's vocals, many of which are buoyed by Avery's harmonies.
"White Motel" uses the trio's sparseness and the resonant thrum of string music to cast a shadow over Lubar's whispered delivery, this time telling of poverty, addiction and the dead-end choices that go along with them. The story gets a little maudlin — broad strokes are the order of the day — but Mt. Thelonious continues to embrace the relative limitations of its setup to tailor its definition of folk music.
Listen to the full album below:
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