"An arbitrary succession of more or less irritating sounds"

Saturday, 7 November 2009

Foothills or meadows

"A kind of formless post-stoner rock combining a limited sound palette, musical development & emotional range with a near-limitless protractedness…"

I’m an unashamed Mountains lover. But even — or especially — with an appetite for their shimmering, accumulating sound that takes in any release I can find (including both solo guises), it’s worth trying to imagine why people might not love their music.

Only for a moment, though, as those people are wrong! For me, Mountains’ limits & limitlessness are at the core of their uniqueness. Listening back across their albums before Choral & Etching, they seem always to have had this subtly self-confident willingness to work & rework their narrow but, in its sly, slow way, very intense furrow — gentle, accepting, somewhat yearning (but muted).

You could say that the newer records, the relatively vigorous Etching especially, are in more obviously Mountainous terrain: yomping up to single note-driven swollen, riffy peaks, then ebbing down to regroup below. But I’ve never found that their name fits them at all well — this is music of the foothills or meadows, one that is precisely not about soaring peaks but rather long (not arduous) journeys or undertakings.

There’s also a timelessness at work, clearly – both indifference to conventional notions of structure, of starting & ending, & in the sense of a sound out of time: not especially contemporary nor actively backwards-looking either (though fans of Another Green World-era art-rock might feel an unexpected spark of recognition at some of the textures making up Etching’s lovely murk).

Etching has a definite performance feel (though that might be down to Thrill Jockey sharing the circumstances of its making, I concede). I seem to hear more overt kinetic energy than before, though the languid, reflective tempo has hardly altered.

It’s a dense, rich sound of several boxes of tricks being emptied out & put to play – more strummed than I remember from initial listens, but also clattering, buzzing & with a darker, riffier tone towards the end.

And although there’s evidently not a vast narrative arc from something like 2005’s lovely Blown Glass Typewriter or the previous year’s more glitch-droney Tonic performance to now, there’s been more than enough enriching of the sound along the way to make want to hear where it goes next…

I mentioned there being more strums than I remembered from early listens of Etching. What I didn’t mention is how relatively dispensable a part of the Mountainscape they can sometimes seem.

Perhaps it’s just my prejudice. But granted the power to ban Mountains from their acoustic guitar (guitars?), I might be tempted – to force them to work even more with the blobbier, more viscous part of their sound, or even to dig out the bells of Melodica another time.

But then I’m back at the limbering start of Etching, where they seem integral & coherent (if not ear-grabbing). Still, some passages on Choral – the start of Telescope, for example – I’d consider purging from the record!

It’s interesting to put Mountains up against Emeralds (the closest peer?). In this light the duo’s bristly, blurred sound seems more individual & less rooted in a single influence than the excellent Emeralds of What Happened & the European tour CD…

In this light, consider the new Cluster album (Qua) too – their first studio recording in 14 years. The lovable old krautlords are now trafficking in notably short little pieces in contrast to Mountains’ languid unravelling.

NB: post stitched out of LMYE's contribution to a recent Disquiet discussion... Go here & here for typically great reviews of Mountains live in London & of Etching from mapsadaisical & The Milk Factory.

Mountains > Etching [edit] (from Etching, Thrill Jockey)

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Anonymous said...

Looks like another interesting discussion! Just wanted to touch on the acoustic guitar issue having just (as you know) seen them live. Taking them away would have a large effect on their sound, the big walls of drone they build (like the seond half of Etching, probably) are mainly created from processed acoustic guitar too.

I actually like the strumming. What I enjoy most about Mountains is the way that their sound is rooted deeply in the organic (not just the guitar; melodica, voice, simple percussion - none of the source materials were electronic when I saw them), but grows massively from there in interesting directions (almost "composed"). Perhaps that comes across even better in the live setting than on record, so if you ever get the chance...

JL said...

Scott, thanks for your smart & thoughtful comment! It's fascinating to hear just how integral the disapproved-of strumming is to their sound, at least in processed form.

The more overt it is (the more folksy, I guess...as at the start of 'Telescope'), the less I enjoy it. But I did try to acknowledge the obvious truth of its coherence most of the time - even on 'Telescope', eventually, as the other elements envelop & entangle it.

Provincial exile isn't helping my metropolitan gig-going, as you know. But will certainly make strenuous efforts to see them (or either solo) if another chance occurs.

Increasingly, though, I'm wondering if I don't need to take matters into my own hands to get anyone interesting to play down here in the south west.

Perhaps Cafe Oto have a franchise scheme...?!

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