Mt. Doubt is the musical nom de plume of Edinburgh-based singer-songwriter and musician Leo Bargery. Doubtlands is Mt. Doubt’s third full-length album and the eager anticipation of its release has been fuelled by three well-received singles. Leo Bargery’s regular solo live streams during lockdown have also enabled stripped-back versions of many of the album’s songs to be introduced to fans.
The band personnel on the new album is much as before and this record is a huge step forward for Mt. Doubt’s blend of alt-rock and dark pop. There is a more expansive sound, which crucially retains a sense of intimacy in key passages. There is so much to enjoy here…Leo Bargery’s rich baritone vocals, complemented perfectly by Annie Booth’s graceful and feathery voice on backing vocals and harmonies; angular and shimmering electric guitar; songs full of light and shade and rhythmic ebb and flow, with anthemic choruses; and Bargery’s lyrics, shot through with striking, and occasionally visceral, imagery.
The album opens with 68th in Orbit, in which Leo Bargery may be reflecting on the way his mood is affected by shifting planetary whims, against backdrops of curling electric guitar, and contrasting acoustic interludes. Sparkling guitar and synths usher in the quiet swagger of Caravans On A Hill, which builds with crunching riffs at the bridge and fades out with spectral guitar lines (”Up past caravans on a hill, we are the siesta and the thrill, we waver with the sea and all the while I wonder, is it just you and is it just me?”). The bruised beauty of Bargery’s vocals is to the fore in the atmospheric and slow burning Yawn When I Do and Eshaness, with the latter song evoking the majestic wildness of the clifftop route leading to Shetland’s Eshaness lighthouse.
Waiting Rooms is an exquisite, steadily-building, piano ballad, and the song’s sense of quiet despair is accentuated by melancholic vocals and harmonies (“I just wanted to call you from the waiting rooms…”). The short but sweet acoustic ballad Murmurations is notable for some delicate vocal harmonies, and the gentle vibe of the song seems deliciously at odds with the edginess in the lyrics. Headless is simply glorious, featuring soaring harmonies and some rousing saxophone during the bridge and closing choruses, courtesy of guest Liam Dempsey (“It’s all so easy, it’s so easy to be, taken in by the Eden we believed was ours for the taking, It’s so easy to be, so easy to be headless. Can you see through this?”).
Stairwell Songs is an elegant, synth-led ballad, with gentle washes of guitar. Leo Bargery has been compared to Nick Cave, with some justification, but here the comparison may be closer to home, with shades of Lloyd Cole or Edwyn Collins. Concern for the environment seeps through Dark Slopes Away, which is a tour de force musically and draws on the full range of Bargery’s impressive vocal armoury. If you were to choose one song to typify the album, this is it (“The dark slopes away, through grieving trees. Doused in dismay, in car, atop multi-storey trees thrust up by a bypass palisade, under skies like fire ripped through a church roof…”). The album closes with the quiet emotional charge of Peaks Of Wreck, in which Leo Bargery, Annie Booth and guest Hamish Hawk provide beautiful vocal interplay.
Doubtlands is a very impressive album indeed. Be in no doubt that Mt. Doubt have developed into one of the finest bands in the Scottish music scene.
Doubtlands will be released via Last Night From Glasgow on 18th September 2020.