Hidden deep in the wooded realm of Enosburg Falls is a cave. Not unlike a necromancer’s sanctum or the meeting grounds for a coven of witches, this cave serves as a place of power from which its inhabitants can experiment with their sorcery. Of course, to the eyes of those dwelling in the mundane, the cave is obscured by a hip little coffee spot called the Flying Disc.
Go on the right day, however, and one might hear the powerful, mercurial sounds of the Mountain Says No emanating from below the shop, where the Cave of Legends hides in plain sight. The Cave was once home to locally beloved indie-rock and weirdo folk act Farm, whose genre bending and live show instrument swapping became the stuff of Vermont music lore.
After the group faded away in 2012, the Mountain Says No emerged from the ashes and began casting very different sorts of spells from the Cave, starting with their 2015 debut, JV. Followed two years later by the hard-charging Golden Landfill, TMSN wasted no time establishing themselves as one of the best rock bands on the scene.
What their latest release, Unemployer, demonstrates is that no other band in Vermont is doing what TMSN does. The four-piece, made up of former Farm leaders Ben Maddox and Jedd Kettler, along with the rhythm section of drummer Justus Gaston and bassist Andy Frappier, has honed its sound on its latest record. The band creates a heady brew of dark, robust hard rock, moving between moments of ’90s fuzzed-out indie with shades of Nada Surf and Built to Spill and intertwining with heavier metal- and punk-influenced textures.
Opener “Change It All” kicks off the record with a long buildup as Gaston rides his hi-hat, and Maddox and Kettler’s guitars take the song into impending-doom territory. The tension progresses until the song comes to an explosive end.
“All Things Never Repeating” follows with a hard turn to massive riff-rock. Gaston and Frappier are locked in near-telepathic union, driving the track as Maddox sings, “Old times, they don’t mean nothing.” Once the horns and organ drift in during the end jam, the band clicks into such a viciously tight groove, the Cave must have been shaking the coffee shop aboveground.
A certain tonal color gives the band its idiosyncratic, unmistakable sound. While Maddox and Kettler bring in full songs, all of TMSN’s tunes are finished and arranged together, with all four members adding their own potions to the mix. When the band hits its stride, as it often does throughout Unemployer, the effect is startlingly effective. The syncopation, groove and heavy dread of “If You Lie” hit like a heavyweight punch but never sacrifice melody or character. The result is an emotional, triumphant barnstormer.
Unemployer is a stark snapshot of a band making unique music with a high degree of confidence. TMSN have zeroed in on a sound but continue to pull it apart, experimenting with new spells from their Cave.
Check out Unemployer at themountainsaysno.bandcamp.com.