This week’s AOTW feature comes at us all the way from Syracuse. We here at buffaBLOG are finding it increasingly difficult to ignore such compelling music from artists in WNY’s surrounding areas, and thusly, are expanding our reach. This week, neo-folk troubadour Merritt Harris and his collaborative project, Mountains and Valleys, has caught our ear, and for good reason. The indie-folk collective has just pulled the sheet off of their self-titled debut—a beautiful and cohesive collection of songs unmistakably suitable for those with curious, introspective souls. Also notable is the fact that the record is a full twelve tracks in length and each track holds up strong. In today’s digital age of online-only 3 – 6 track EPs, splits, and singles, it’s refreshing to see a full twelver every now and again, and the amount of work that went into this one is palpable—to say the least.
Mountains and Valleys’ sound can be best compared to the likes of UK contemporaries Fanfarlo or even an I’m Wide Awake era Bright Eyes. Harris’ soft warble and his acoustic guitar work take the forefront throughout most of the album, and his songwriting is sharp and thoughtful. Most songs on M&V take a whimsical approach, featuring a wide variety of instrumentation including (but not limited to): strings, horns, organ, and glockenspiel. The result is hand-clappingly infectious, provoking dreams of pleasant nostalgia that make M&V such an enjoyable listen.
Album opener “stubborn seed” is one of M&V’s strongest highlights, combining a delicate finger-picked acoustic lick with a smooth horn section and reserved, yet appropriate drum beat. Beautifully arranged, the song swells slowly with the inclusion of more and more instrumentation with Harris laying down his silky smooth vocals throughout. Diving deeper into the album, I found “the worst half” to take a catchier approach, featuring a rhythm section that will make head bobbers and toe tappers out of even the most reserved listeners. The round and bouncy bass line provides an instant hook, the click-happy drums and hand claps makes a perfect vehicle for that bass, and the rest of the song falls snugly into place. Think Spoon meets Bombay Bicycle Club–catchy stuff.
Conversely, “grave or kite” is decidedly a bit gloomier, provoking somber introspection with lyrics such as “These mountains and valleys are cause for concern” or “I’m down in my grave, digging, looking for someone.” Deep piano chords and intricate acoustic guitar work weaves together beautifully to create this well-composed tribute of unrest. M&V’s penultimate track, “salt city” is my personal favorite of the bunch, paying homage to a famous poem by Gil Scott-Heron. “The revolution will not be televised” sings Harris, lowly and handsomely over a brisk snare beat, distant horns, and again–beautiful acoustic guitar licks. The song is calming and contemplative, perfect for the tail end of the record.
Mountains and Valleys, as a whole, is undoubtedly an impressive effort. None of the album’s twelve tracks come off as filler, each track fitting nicely in the record’s dynamic range. The instrumentation is diverse and well-arranged, making the self-titled collection of indie-folk songs a thoroughly enjoyable listen. Skip on over to Mountain and Valleys’ Bandcamp page for digital downloads and physical copies.