Based on the band name alone, you might get the sense that Manmade Mountains walks the tightrope between synthetic and naturalistic modes of music-making. But on We Were There, the band mostly offers over-produced songs to mixed results. “Banjo Song” is indistinguishable from the Avett Brothers in every way: Strummed banjos, vocal harmonies and other stringed accompaniment all feature prominently.
Manmade Mountains’ replication of that popular band’s sound is well executed but lacks any inventional element to set it apart. Songs like “From the Stratosphere” and “Birds and the Bees” recall the late ’90s/early ’00s obsession with hand percussion coupled with acoustic guitars (I’m reminded, unfortunately, of Dave Mathews Band and O.A.R.).
Again, there’s certainly nothing novel to these choices, but if that’s your thing, you’ll get it in droves on We Were There. Don’t get me wrong; there is some decent poetry here. The chorus of “Wishful Thinking” laments our misdirected, mass-media-stricken minds: “Do those people on the movie screen make you crazy?/ You spend every night just thinkin’ about ‘em, don’t ya, baby?”
Ultimately, though, We Were There is a too-reverent hat tip to contemporary acoustic music. There are moments when an above-average lyric or an extraordinary vocal performance takes the wheel, but there aren’t enough of them to override the obvious comparisons. 2 out of 5.
Manmade Mountains plays New Earth Athens on Friday, Apr. 18.
Like what you just read? Support Flagpole by making a donation today. Every dollar you give helps fund our ongoing mission to provide Athens with quality, independent journalism.