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Album Review: Mt. St. Helens Vietnam Band – Where the Messengers Meet

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Mt. St. Helens Vietnam Band’s debut was an obvious one. With low production, and a cluster of safe ideas making for a more straight rock experience, it lacked any real identity, and didn’t get them very far. Their first attempted to reach for greatness; their second album Where the Messengers Meet sees them taking themselves more seriously. You finally get to feel a sense of knowing exactly what they’re going for, resulting in cleaner ideas and original moments that give more of a distinct edge to their sound. This is an edge however that we’ve all heard before, with production tricks that are, for better or worse, a staple for modern rock bands. For the four players, it’s a brilliant second record that’s a step in the right direction, but for us, it’s easy to place Messengers as just another fish in a crowded sea.

This isn’t the same band from their self-titled debut, and they’re very open about it. For Messengers, they’re going for a more grown up sound, something to sink your teeth into that’s an obvious step outside their box, and these attempts can result in just as much dullness as fresh excitement. The reality for this band is that they’re trying to find their place in the over-saturated indie rock world, working with a sound that’s frankly been done – all while trying to nail down a cohesive identity. Their renewed take is the logical way to go, but it’s still predictable in many places.

The sloppy, rock edge from the self-titled is polished up and dulled with reverberations and lavish guitar, Yorke-esque high note vocal harmonies sneaking in for the quieter moments. The degree to which Radiohead seems to have influenced the record is a bit startling at first, but it isn’t over used as a dramatic device. Still, on tracks like “Leaving Trails” it’s the direction they’ve chosen to reach for and it’s quite ambitious. For the rest, what was a more energetic and basic sound, has been slowed down giving it room to spread out. The result is more big anthems, orchestras and sleepy moments as on “You Were/I was” and “Gone Again”. The choppy opener “At Night” combines the old basement sounds technique but reins it in just for the strings, really taking it over the top.

The entire central section relishes in darkness with cello’s creeping through “Bitter Cold”. It’s the farthest stylistically that they’ve run with, sounding like the Seattle rain in the background for ambiance. The set is long and drawn out, slowing and stretching things with fuller guitars, and those big orchestrations weaving in and out to fill in the gaps.

It seems like a lot of bands are trying to take that next step and go big for a second stab at success. For Mt. St. Helens, when you make songs like “The Roof” it makes you sound desperate, but when you hit us with a “George Clark” and “Gone Again”, we can tell you’re on to something. Slowing things down is a tricky beast, and the band almost has it. There’s quite a bit going on and much to get used to as this band evolves. As they build on this sound, they’ll find that the only trick left for them will be what to do when they want to strip things down again.

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