By: Cormac Riordan, Contributor
“Mount Sharp writes songs about science and bad decisions”. This quote, from the band’s bandcamp page, sums up the dueling yet often beautifully aligned themes and ideas at play on this group’s debut LP, “That Shadow”.
The record is a hazy, spaced-out love letter to both science and relationships past. Frontwoman/guitarist Sarah Wood is responsible for writing all the lyrics on the album, and she embodies them with all the necessary emotion as well as the winky references to Carl Sagan and the Kuiper Belt. The idea of a record about past wrongdoings by others that draws from the world of science may seem incongruous at first, but it melds together as smoothly as the words leaving Wood’s mouth. Instead of making the listener feel like they are being pulled in totally different directions, the two ideas work together to create an effect of alienation akin to what a NASA probe must feel rocketing through space all alone.
But despite the feelings of alienation and other-ness throughout the album, the music never keeps the audience at an arm’s reach. It’s a strangely cozy album, despite its subject matter, mostly thanks to the fuzzed-out, almost shoegaze guitar riffs that permeate the sound of the project. It manages to feel both personal and completely out there, like the spacey synthesizers jamming out while Wood croons “You think you’re the sun – at best you’re dust in a light beam/At best we’re throwing rocks trying to stop a stream in ‘Voyager I’”. These lyrics use the scientific imagery of space to convey the emotions of isolation and otherness, especially in the context of how one may view themselves versus how they may be perceived by others.
The whole of the lyrical content on the record isn’t entirely devoted to space symbolism, however. Alcoholism is an all too earthly topic, and it comes up a few times on the record, mostly notably on the tracks “Don’t” and “Sometimes I Know”. On the latter, when Wood sings “I believe in bourbon/I support the causes of whiskey/No I don’t miss any of the dreams/The dreams they spare me” the roots of her feelings of alienation become startlingly clear. While this works well to make the lyrics hit closer to home than some of the space imagery, it loses a little of what makes the album feel distinct from other alternative/indie records about love and loss. These territorial concerns almost feel out of place on this album with lyrics about being a nuclear creation of evil or traveling to the stars.
When the album really soars is when it manages to connect these earthly worries with spacely themes, such as on the best track of the album, “Godzilla”. Here, Wood’s lyrics perfectly meld science fiction and human feelings of alienation. The song details a dream where she has become Japan’s premier Kaiju. She belts out “You can’t understand me, I’m a monster/I don’t feel anything” suggesting a level of self-removal from society that can only be mirrored by a gargantuan example of Japan’s nuclear destruction fears. But the song isn’t just a frustrated expression of feeling alone in the world, it also expresses a need for someone to understand another’s (or their own) circumstances. “I wish you would believe me/When I say/Statistically there’s no way we are getting out of here ok,” could be a warning from a monster bent on destruction, but it also reads as a desperate attempt at reaching out, at mutual understanding. Whether in a relationship, a culture, or between a 200 foot, fire-breathing lizard and the people they’re destroying, it resonates in today’s fractured culture. Mount Sharp manages to be both personal and relevant to others, all while peppering in scientific references and allusions, an impressive feat for any artist.
Released this past February, “That Shadow” is Mount Sharps’ first full-length album, following two EPs released in 2013 and 2014. Sarah Wood, known eponymously as SWOOD, and lead guitarist Bryan Brunchman have made up the core of the band on all their records. Wood and Brunchman are Portland, Maine natives who relocated to Brooklyn to form the group. On “That Shadow” they are joined by Sal Garro on drums and Jonathan Pilkington Kahnt on bass.