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Mountains: Air Museum

img  Tobias Fischer

Mountains is a group that knows how to exercise restraint. On Air Museum, the Brooklyn-based duo’s fifth album, tiny changes in melody, rhythm, and texture unfold at a glacial pace, feeding you just enough to keep you leaning forward in anticipation of the next sonic event. Instead of section or key changes, Mountains relies on shimmering textures, micro-fluctuations in rhythms, and heavily processed sounds to create absorbing, emotionally rich music.

For the recording of Air Museum, the band opted not to use computers to process their sounds—an interesting procedural touch, given that this certainly sounds like “electronic” music. Instead, the duo used pedals and modular synths to manipulate acoustic instruments such as guitar, cello, accordion, and piano. Another twist is that much of the Air Museum was recorded live, with few edits—a surprise given that many of the slow builds and minimalist undertones have the incessant, meditative quality of computer-generated loops.

“January 17” begins with a single sustained note that, over the course of five minutes, blossoms into a single held chord shimmering with beats of dissonances, chirping sounds and a subtle counterpoint of moving inner voices. “Thousand Square” is an aggressively rhythmic composition in which analog synth hits ping-pong between the speakers while distortion slowly overtakes a subtle web of layered rhythms and textures.

While much of the music certainly has a superficially amorphous quality, a closer examination reveals a myriad of interlocking layers and textural changes so organic that it’s difficult to discern how much of the music is improvised versus composed.  “Blue Lanterns on East Oxford,” begins as a floating, ambient composition of electro-buzzing and keyboard, but is given direction by an incessant bass-line that propels the piece through a pleasing, pop-like chord progression before disintegrating back to a formless sonic cloud. “Live at the Triple Door”—an edit of a live recording—slowly snowballs into a suffocating tide of distortion. The fuzz eventually gives way to a delicate interplay of reversed accordion and acoustic guitar, closing the album with Air Museum’s only clearly recognizable acoustic sounds.

Throughout, the music of Air Mountain teems with a pent-up, static energy. At moments—during “Live at the Triple Door” and “Newsprint,” for example—the textures build to violent levels of density impossible to dissect in a single listen. Sure, much of this fits into the moniker of “ambient” music…and rightfully so. Many of the songs are built on slowly churning cloudlike textures with little in the way of harmonic direction. But the music also carries a powerful emotional charge underpinned by complex webs of textural/rhythmic activity that simmer just below the surface.

By Hannis Brown

Homepage: Mountains
Homepage: Thrill Jockey Records

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