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Common Prayer – There Is A Mountain (Big Potato)

August 26, 2010

If there was ever a record that really pushed the boat out trying to make you like it, it’s this one. There’s a great little story of a Brooklynite, deeply dipped in the music scene of his own borough, tugging boatloads of clattering and jingling junk (and half-tuned guitars – oh how quaint!) to a small English village idyll –Steventon, the birthplace of Jane Austen (where she wrote Pride and Prejudice – aah what a classic). And there, in a cow barn on Hill Farm sewing together sweet folkish sounds out of rags and scraps with a few local chaps including one of our ‘most-revered songwriters’, Neil Halstead.

Even the album artwork is great. So cut n’ paste, so sepia-toned, like a common man’s Sergeant Pepper’s where everyone knows your name. No wait, that’s Cheers. Ach, you know what I mean. It’s lovely – you could buy one of those vinyl frames from Urban Outfitters and make it into a feature.

But There Is A Mountain is such a try-hard. It’s like that kid who brings you sweets every morning at school and will always carry your satchel and holds a place in line for you, just in the hope that you’ll invite him around to play on your Sega Genesis. Ok fine, Playstation 4, Super Nintendo Wii, or whatever kids these days get their kicks from.

But let’s read between the lines for a minute. This cutesy cow barn on Hill Farm is actually the annual site for the Truck Festival each year, which though a lovely festival, is still the stomping ground for 4000 ale-drinking, portaloo-using revellers each year. And our Brooklynite in question is Jason Sebastian Russo (Hopewell, Mercury Rev, The Silent League), who’s name manages to make me shudder every time. That’s a personal quip though, not be confused with ‘proper critic’. And Halstead? Well…I found a great little anecdote on Wikipedia (not that you should believe everything you read in a Wiki entry, kids).

To quote: ‘(Halstead’s) second solo album, Oh! Mighty Engine was released by Jack Johnson’s Brushfire Records on July 29, 2008. The album was partly recorded in Johnson’s solar powered studio in Los Angeles…’

Jack Johnson. Chuckle. Solar powered. Giggle.

I digress. It’s not as if the There Is A Mountain is bad. ‘ Of Saints’, despite the lyrics ‘saints don’t come marching in, they stroll on by’, is a rolling and rocking tune, that climaxes with the perfect cymbal-bashing, organ-grinding meltdown. ‘Marriage Song’ is full of sweet marital metaphors and sheet metal and ‘Us Vs. Them’ is undisputed head-swaying piano blues (gets a little bit James Blunt-y at the end though – be warned). But it’s gonna take more than a directionless army of saints to convince me that I should be friends with this album. And there’s no way I’m inviting it home to play Duck Hunt with me. That’s Call Of Duty, of course. Duck Hunt! Ha. That is like so 1987…

[Originally published on Bearded Magazine]

2 Comments leave one →
  1. James permalink
    August 26, 2010 2:46 pm

    So you think the album art is “great,” and the music is full of “perfect,” “sweet,” “undisputed head-swaying” moments, but you don’t want to play video games with it? Is this a good review or a bad review? Are you a music writer, or an essayist on arbitrary hipster snobbery? Unclear…

  2. duck hunt is awesome permalink
    August 26, 2010 4:46 pm

    so is neil h. … jack johnson, not so much, but at least he is environmentally aware,haha

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