Sunday, August 7, 2011
Mountains - Air Museum
01. January 17
02. Thousand Square
05. Blue Lanterns on East Oxford
06. Backwards Crossover
07. Live at the Triple Door
The Brooklyn duo Mountains like a big canvas. Their panoramic electro-acoustic music is made from slow layers of processed acoustic instruments and patient drones that slide against each other at independent paces and with the single-mindedness of natural processes. They usually avoid loops in favor of a continual unspooling, so that the individual components of their tracks have no clear beginnings and endings, just hitches and knots here and there. They portray a great deal of motion within superstructures that seem to stand utterly still. Negative space is diligently sought out and eradicated, until we can hear the computer age gently swallowing folk music whole.
Up through 2009's Choral, Mountains used home computer software to transform their acoustic instrumentation, which runs the gamut from spindly guitars and pianos to suffusing cellos, accordions, and melodicas. But for Air Museum, they headed into a Brooklyn studio with an analog arsenal of pedals and modular synthesizers to record in real time. The result is a newfound energy and dynamism that comes at a price. At their best, Mountains balance their systems so delicately that different layers float seamlessly to the top at different times. They pull that off here on songs like "January 17", where a modem-like melody that recalls vintage electronic ambient rises and falls through a slow-motion landslide of long tones. But sometimes, the new emphasis on hard-edged electronic pulses, Growing-style, upsets the equilibrium.
I'm thinking specifically of "Thousand Square" and "Sequel". Both have mighty tectonic shifts to recommend them, but their fat, rubbery, skipping electronics tend to run roughshod over the finer calibrations, and the compositions lose something in subtlety and mystery. The walls don't just breathe; they hyperventilate. These songs really drive home the feeling that Choral, where the electronics acted as enclosing suspensions for the instruments, has been turned inside out, and not to its benefit. On the other hand, the stronger electronic presence works great on "Blue Lanterns on East Oxford", where sharply angled but well-balanced motifs slice through each other with an almost dubstep wobble, so no one part dominates the whole. And to be working on such a wide screen, Mountains are great at maintaining tension-- their tracks never feel aimless or inert, even at their most toweringly monumental, like on Air Museum's "Newsprint". So if you liked Choral, here it is with more of everything, for better and for worse...www.pitchfork.com