For a band like Gungor — named for married couple and songwriting team Michael and Lisa Gungor — comparisons to Sufjan Stevens are probably inevitable. Michael’s gentle croon bears a fairly strong resemblance to Stevens’ own vocals, for one, while their ornate arrangements have a similar chamber-pop feel. And biographically speaking, the similarities only deepen; both come from a Christian background, Gungor having been nominated for a “Best Gospel Song” Grammy, and their music often being referred to as “liturgical post-rock.” Yet, a distaste for Christian pop music or Stevens’ symphonic twee shouldn’t preclude anyone from finding something to like on Gungor’s sixth album, I Am Mountain.
There’s a rush of energy on the opening title track, building up to a big, earnest Arcade Fire-style climax, while the lower key “Beat of Her Heart” explores some interesting territory somewhere between Calexico’s Southwestern noir and ‘70s-era English folk. I Am Mountain also has its share of schmaltz, however, such as on the saccharine twinkle of “Long Way Off,” which comes dangerously close to approaching the sickening sweetness of Owl City. Likewise, when Lisa takes over vocals on “Wandering,” obscured by layers of Auto-Tune, the effect seems woefully mismatched to the sparse, gentle ballad. The trajectory of the album gets back on track with the harder rocking “Let It Go,” and the down-and-dirty hoedown of “Wayward and Torn,” and while I Am Mountain is patchy in parts, Gungor make up for their questionable diversions with no-nonsense rockers that hit the spot. Here’s hoping the Hallmark slow jams don’t make the cut the next time around.