Golden Trees (Amish Records)
Metal Mountains is a trippy New York trio made up of veterans of assorted avant-folk outfits, and they're responsible for my first favorite album of 2011. Vocalist Helen Rush, guitarist P.G. Six, and multi-instrumentalist Samara Lubelski played together in the enigmatic band Tower Recordings, which recorded on and off for 10 years before dissolving in 2004. That history helps account for the seamless flow of their collaboration here, with Lubelski's strings washing across Six's circular guitar lines, and Rush's dark, gentle voice riding the undulating surfaces of the songs and sometimes sinking into their depths. It is melodic and unapologetically gorgeous music, but with an edge of unpredictability that keeps it from ever being merely pretty. Effects pedals build surging drones that occasionally rise up into electronic howls, and Six's picking—sometimes reminiscent of Fairport-era Richard Thompson—has a spiky clarity that tugs insistently at the songs' meditative tempos.
The album is lushly coherent, with each of its seven tracks seeming like a movement in a larger work. Even the song titles resonate with each other (and with the band's own name), evoking a sort of psychedelic Shintoism: "Silver Sun," "Orange/Yellow," "The Golden Trees That Shade Us." In just 35 minutes, Metal Mountains create their very own world, and it is a lovely, mysterious place to visit.