Is there a Donovan song stuck in your head yet? No? Let me repeat the title, this review is about Luna, the second full-length album from There Is No Mountain. If “First There Is a Mountain” isn’t stuck in your head yet, I don’t think we can be friends. If you can push that ear worm out of your head for long enough, There Is No Mountain (TINM) has released an experimental/folk/Americana/psych-pop-rock record that takes inspiration from all kinds of genres. This Portland-based duo is made up of vocalist/percussionist/guitarist Matt Harmon and vocalist/drummer/keyboardist Kali Giaritta, who happen to be married.
There’s a ton going on with the guitars, whether they’re big and fuzzy or faint and picked, but it’s like life going on below the surface of a body of water. When the guitar is at its most intricate, it’s also at its softest volume. There are big, fuzzy chords on “Listening to Sadness” and “Waterbound,” but there are also soft, plucked parts hiding in there. “Hiking” is one of the few songs where the guitar gets all the solos it needs to really stand out. Because inspiration was taken from so many sources, at times the guitars sound like ‘90s alternative, or Latin (think of a world music CD being played at a Ten Thousand Villages store,) or a little Renaissance Faire-esque when it gets classical, or kind of folky Americana. I’m pretty sure I even caught a touch of zydeco in “Black Hole (Part 2).” Now keep in mind that all of those different styles may exist within the same song. There are tempo changes all over the place to accommodate for all of the style changes. Add in the vocals and you have even more styles for which to account.
The vocals are shared by Harmon and Giaritta, though their voices sound absolutely nothing like each other’s. They harmonize, but Harmon basically speaks all of his lead vocals while Giaritta has a clear voice I last heard from a church’s choir director. They harmonize well when singing together, but it’s a strange mix when they take turns singing because they styles are so different (even within the same song.)
While the music has dark moments, it’s punctuated by things like really audible maracas and tambourine – who can be sad with maracas and tambourines? The lyrics, however, are pretty dark. They’re full of anxiety and depression, like not feeling worthy of the sun’s rays on “Listening to Sadness” because she’ll be dead soon, worrying that she’s not a good wife on “Good Life,” or Harmon wondering what happens if he dies while laughing after announcing that he doesn’t take care of himself on “What If?” Despite the anxieties expressed, “Good Life” has a pretty upbeat sound, and along with “Cat’s Away,” kind of sounds like it was inspired by a sea shanty. “Benjamin” is full of warnings to the title character about how life is sucky and lonely, but it has these cute little plinky keyboard notes that sound so happy. Many of the songs reminded me of being dragged to church as a child, mainly because of Giaritta’s voice and some of the vocal arrangements being really reminiscent of some of the more modern hymns, but also because some of the lyrics start to sound a little preachy. “C’mon Friends” implores us all to give ourselves a break and forgive each other; “Listening to Sadness” wonders why no one listens anymore and guilts us into it; “Black Holes (Part 2)” tells us that we have a choice when we’re afraid. Then there’s “Song of Seikilos,” which sounds like it came from church because the oft-repeated lyrics were taken from an ancient tombstone in modern-day Turkey and translated to English. They basically tell us to live life for the moment because life is short, which is quite a different message than asking a body of water to let you drown (“Listening to Sadness.”) Again, “Hiking” stands out as being different because its lyrics seem to recount a good hike at dusk – though there’s still the worry that it will be too dark to safely find their way back down from the summit of the hill they just climbed. There is no such thing as happiness, you guys. Everything sucks, even successful hikes.
This album is unique, which is a difficult word to use in a review. It blends the many styles and genres it uses well, though the vocals can be a strange mix with each other. The juxtaposition between the sound and the words is a little odd, too. Those lyrics are depressing. It’s all sonically blended together, but somehow all of the parts still stick out as not-quite fitting together. These two are clearly very talented musicians who have crafted a well-produced album with plenty of layers. But as a listener, you have to be in the mood for a little bit of nearly every genre and a lot of anxious lyrics. Maybe this album is a statement about depression, trying to keep a positive sound despite the invasive thoughts and fears. More power to them for confessing so many anxieties.