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CD Feature/ Mountains: "Choral"

img  Tobias

The ongoing dominance of vocal music in the charts is closely tied to our  society's increasingly unhealthy obsession with making the most intimate emotions public. But there are things you just can't sing about. The inexplicable beauty of forceful waves consolingly crashing against the shoreline, for example. The pastoral magnificence of infinite fields of gently rolling hills. The touch of a beloved hand. The sound of a friend's voice. A kiss.  Words are not just unnecessary when trying to describe the essence of those sensations. They can truly do harm. These, then, are the ideal topics for Mountains, the duo of Brendon Anderegg and Koen Holtkamp, to write songs about.

For Anderegg and Holtkamp, who started their career on their own New York-based imprint Apestaartje before signing with Thrill Jockey for their third full-length effort, writing music can not be separated from the process of collecting and processing sound. Using acoustic sources such as Guitar, Organ and Accordion alongside processed material culled from field recordings or electronic recombination, some of the pieces on „Choral“ are the result of stacking up to 30 tracks over each other, each complementing and reinforcing the other. The jobs of composing, arranging different takes into coherent works and of layering thematic material are essentially identical: As the music progresses, the continous addition or subtraction of motives results in seamlessly shifting accentuations, with some pieces starting out on the basis of a rhythmic pattern or a melodic idea, before gradually flattening out and dissolving into an immersive sonic rug replete with intricately intertwined harmonic semblances.

Compiling a pool of noises is one half of the equation. Interacting spontaneously with these sounds to bring out the different micromeanings and plentiful relationships between them is the other. „Chorals“ is not a typical improvisational album pur sang – in fact, it sounds extremely thought-through and laboriously refined - but it is very much the result of fishing for genius in the moment and then organising these magical instances into borderless soundscapes of up to twelve minutes' length: By performing the basic tracks to these six pieces live, the band has attained a matchless harmonic flow and an agreable subcutaneous tension, which permeates every single second of the final record.

While their methods and instrumentations point in the direction of the Post Rock movement, it surely makes more sense regarding Mountains as a soundscape project. The minutely delayed Marimba pattern of the opening title track, which at first dreamily dances on top of a sustained bass tone before turning into a thick stream of Ambient texture filled with percussive echoes panning from right to left and back again, evokes vivid associations with the psychoacoustic minimalism of Steve Reich and the oneiric club moods of Underworld, while the closing „Melodica“ is a piece of pure ethreal drone building. On the other contributions, the recognisable timbres of the instruments are more clearly discernible, with Anderegg and Holtkamp carefully exploring where a short, truncated Guitar motive may take them.

The press release also draws comparisons with Krautrock – a pretty accurate observation, albeit more in terms of how the band manages to create momentuous and majestic effects from very simple means rather than with regards to what they actually sound like. Even though its shimmering surface may suggest so, Mountains are not about perfection and virtuosity but about an approach which places feeling and intuition above everything. And it has to be said: At times, the emotional impact of this album can even get to those who thought they'd heard it all. Of course, „Choral“, too, occasionally reaches its borders and surely there are things you can neither sing nor write instrumentals about. But, as the duo proves here, it is worth the pain to keep on trying.

By Tobias Fischer

"Choral" will be released internationally on February 2nd 2009.

Homepage: Thrill Jockey Records
Homepage: Mountains at Apestaartje Records

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