There’s no elaborate story or deeper meaning to the name Mt. St. Helens Vietnam Band – according to the members it was just some silly phrase a young friend blurted out on a long car ride – but it still does an articulate job of describing the band’s sound. Like Mount St. Helens, or the vernacular impact of Vietnam, or even the retro-tastic notion of attaching the word ‘band’ at the end of your name, MSHVB are intrinsically American; indebted to rich settler-era mythos, well-ingrained Bible stories, and working-man agit-folk. The band works well with that sound – polishing it up with a little studio time and inde-centric philosophy, while retaining the warm-blooded universalism that keeps ‘this’ kind of music timeless.
However, unlike most Springsteen-bred ‘great American bands’, Mt. St. Helens Vietnam Band are anything but anthemic, their latest effort Where The Messengers Meet is far more Nebraska than it is Born to Run. There’s no teenaged daydreaming or city-centric namedropping, in fact the album is primarily about meek, discontent people unable to understand themselves or each other. “Don’t you think it’s time we disappear” sings Benjamin Verdoes on “Gone Again” – it’s easier to fade into the background than face the reality of their insulated lives. The band for a very specific feeling, by texturing their songs with vast, dwarfing imagery – like a Pacific forest, or a brutal, sheet-white winter – and by keeping their guitars hovering just above comfort level – they create a sense of deep isolation in the face of the world’s unrelenting hugeness. It’s a far cry from the liberating nature of most Americana.
Where The Messengers Meet might be the best MSHVB can do with their current MO, it’s a remarkably compact album of emotionally-swollen, disillusioned folk rock – but you get the feeling that the band might be on the precipice of something much more titanic. Like Titus Andronicus before them, the ingredients of a The Monitor are brewing, and if that ever coalesces, the world will undoubtedly pay attention. But even if they never reach that level, the band still has plenty to hold their head high about.