Mt. St. Helens Vietnam Band Where The Messengers Meet

[Dead Oceans; 2010]

Styles: post rock, math pop, avant-folk
Others: The Dodos, Cursive, Akron/Family

We all know the saying about what happens when you assume. And we also know that a band’s name usually has little to do with its sound or its genre (see: Conifer). But Ben Verdoes and his Mt. St. Helens Vietnam Band seemed to uninitiated ears to promise something either ramshackle or violent or both, a troupe of minstrels preaching peace and protest or waging nothing less than sonic war.

Neither is true.

Though the band of brothers (literally, in one case) possesses a bent for the unpredictable, what emerges floats comfortably in the middle of the indie river, pulling from tributaries all around; pop, folk, Americana, math rock, and metal all find at least a small voice in Where The Messengers Meet.

This sophomore effort, the follow-up to the band’s 2009 self-titled album, is sewn together with familial ties. As the band told interviewers after the release of their debut, their creativity is the communal effort of those that include, among others, a husband, a wife, and a 14-year-old stepbrother (who was responsible for the band’s name when he was 12).

These ties seem only to have tightened since Mt. St. Helens; with prolonged playing has come a greater focus. Messengers reins in the haphazard promise of the debut.

Which is not to say that Messengers is reined-in. Although leadoff “At Night” seems to foreshadow a record of folk-rock balladeering with its intermittent near-silence and washes of buried strings behind the bass-heaviness and subtle female backup vocals, it becomes clear very quickly that MSHVB can do more. “The Roof” boasts these unexpectedly gargantuan, plodding, intertwining guitar riffs interspersed with an almost delicate melody. Although they’re capable of the type of impact achieved with such LARGENESS, the band doesn’t overuse it; in this, and in many of the other tracks on the record, they opt for restraint without restrictiveness.

Then there’s rhythmic ambition, the other thing Messengers delivers in droves. “You Were/I Was” utilizes polymeter to great effect during both the intimate and the epic parts of the song, dropping beats more as a tool to roll the listeners irresistibly into the next phrase than to throw them off. From this point forward, the record sticks to unusual meters and sort of trips forward in speedy leaps and shuffles even as it instrumentally traverses territory ranging from raucous (“Hurrah”) to syrupy (“In A Hole”) to dark (“Cadence”) to driving (“George Clark”). When the record concludes with “(Untitled),” one of its stand-outs, the close-up, beautifully orchestrated acoustic confessional seems an appropriate end to the rocky rhythmic journey.

When it comes to assumptions, Where The Messengers Meet subverts all the imagery suggested by the group’s very name. It implies something incendiary, something rebellious, something explosive. And though there’s evidence of a knowledge of all those things in the record’s landscape, the path it takes proves a safer one, a trip to be had in good company.

Links: Mt. St. Helens Vietnam Band - Dead Oceans

Most Read