Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Sunken Houses by The Mighty Sequoyah (2012)

Three lines near the end of Sunken Houses point towards the secret of The Mighty Sequoyah's success:

There is no end to time.
The sun will always shine.
Even if fire destroys the copper mine, we'll be fine.

This is the refrain of "Copper Mine," the album's second-to-last song.  These words--grounded, homely yet transcendent--bespeak a spiritual strength and maturity that pervade the entire album.  These qualities help make Sunken Houses such a fine listen.

Without them, The Mighty Sequoyah's elegiac melodies, celestial harmonies and lovelorn lyrics might sound quaint or insipid.  As it stands, however, this Provo, Utah group's brand of folk-rock bares very little trace of gentility.  Rather than the chamber or the parlor, their music conjures up images of wide-open spaces, deep woods and clear streams.  This is stuff that you can reread Leaves of Grass to.

The band shores up the melodies with warm, clean guitar and fiddle and a muscular rhythm section.  The harmonies evoke a church choir at some moments and a protest rally at others, and the album's clear, spacious production gives the music plenty of room to breathe.  What really puts Sunken Houses over the top, however, is the lyrics' intimations of struggle, suffering and impermanence.  "Stuck beside the river's edge./ None of us will get revenge," the band sings on the lead track, "Medicine Man," while they warn in the title track's chorus, "Nothing in this world can be only/ What on Earth it might appear to be."  These dark undertones add depth and weight to the sweet yearning of such songs as "Porcelain," "Call Me Home" and "Enchanters."

In the end, Sunken Houses reminds me of Wordsworth's "Tintern Abbey" or "Intimations of Immortality."  This is especially true of the song "Home," about a man mired in big-city oppression who yearns to return to the openness of nature and childhood ("I remember lying in tall grass,/ telling secrets on our backs./ I shared everything I ever had.").  In the album's cumulative effect, The Mighty Sequoyah seem to reach the same conclusion that the great Romantic poet does:

We will grieve not, rather find
Strength in what remains behind,
In the primal sympathy
Which having been must ever be,
In the soothing thoughts that spring
Out of human suffering,
In the faith that looks through death,
In years that bring the philosophic mind.

You can find info about The Mighty Sequoyah on Facebook and elsewhere online.  Sunken Houses is available for download on Bandcamp.

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