Mountain Mirrors, despite its collective name, is the prog-influenced acoustic project of Jeff Sanders from Massachusetts, and “Asylum Acres” is his EP of 2012; although having already put out three full-length albums already. This project focuses on dark, brooding collections of tales with undeniable guitar finesse and low vocals. Jeff Sanders, its sole concrete member, is the lone vocalist and guitarist of this project, while he invites outside musicians to add some different flavours on his tracks (usually with drums and strings).
That said, “Asylum Acres” is six tracks long and is only just short of being 18-minutes long, so the tracks are generally pretty short, flying by and feeling shorter than they already are. The general feel of the EP is like a lurking doom, a lot of the time giving imagery of deserted and ruined settlements and lost hope. Simply put, it’s a pretty dark story-telling atmosphere with some obvious grunge influences.
The album starts with Your Angels, a Western-tinged track, full of with tingling acoustic guitar and low drums as these strings intertwine the track with soft sweeps. On this track, Sanders’s voice sounds very gothic, exaggerating the sonics of certain words, drawing them out in a long delivery too. Although haunting and interesting, at times there are moments where they feel slightly corny (depending on the lyrics).
Dead River Co., even though sounding fairly similar in the overall sound and approach, is definitely more fulfilling, more relaxed and natural. Even the opening lyrics take you by surprise with the bluntly put “Their river flows through a dead ass town/Dead people wander ’round”; and its honesty is what grabs you. The track is just a soft tale put into song, inspiring memories and images of the post-apocalyptic/depression nature of the lyrics.
The third track Full Of Flies, the longest track by slightly stepping over the 5-minute mark, is perhaps the highlight of the EP. This time a strummed guitar makes an appearance (instead of arpeggios) while a violin flows over the top, almost what you’d expect from a collaboration between drone artists Earth and Grouper. Jeff also takes a softer approach, using a higher and softer range in his vocals, which works really well with the track and not feeling so heavy as the previous two. There’s also a mean electric violin solo, the reverb and its slight distortion bringing a dark cloud into the mix – not a negative thing here as it intensifies the atmosphere.
Then there’s the title track, which returns to the arpeggios, but this time sees Jeff having backing vocals supporting him as an echo. However, the track goes by so fast that it ends as soon as you familiarise yourself with it. Spell injects a much needed energy, but as before, feels a bit corny again, almost Jack Black-ish in the vocal delivery, especially with lyrics of a woman casting spells and being led along by her – even the acoustic guitar at parts has the accompanying overly dramatic and playful feel. However, when the wah-ing electric guitar comes in, things take a more interesting turn.
Purgatory is an instrumental and features this really nice prog-rock echoed guitar playing on the top of the acoustic, feeling very Pink Floyd-ish in its execution, providing a nice closer to the EP. Although it ends pretty abruptly and could have easily gone a bit longer without feeling too long, you just want to listen to it again just for the soothing melody.
In the end, Mountain Mirrors has its niche, Jeff Sanders has undoubtedly penned his creative home in this style of music and is comfortable in it. This will definitely interest avid fans soft acoustic/folk music with a slight grunge feel, however, if you’re wanting a more varied and completely experimental version of that, then this may not be the EP you’re looking for. As a whole, it is pretty linear and although it goes by fast (you won’t be bored) it’s sometimes hard to remember just what you’ve just heard.
Despite that, “Asylum Acres” brings a breath of fresh air into a style of music that otherwise suffers from stale, monotonous approaches; and Mountain Mirrors certainly isn’t afraid of letting in one or two influences outside the folk acoustic genre either – prog rock and grunge specifically. This EP is the soundtrack to overcast nights, while alone at your desk with candlelight during a power cut as you watch one or two soaking pedestrians hurry along deserted pavements. It has that mournful and life-pondering feel but without being depressing in the slightest, acting more as an insightful window into another lifetime.
You can download the EP at Bandcamp or on iTunes.
Favourite tracks: Full Of Flies, Dead River Co., Purgatory.