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Mountains - Mountains

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Artist: Mountains

Album: Mountains

Label: Apestaartje

Review date: Jun. 19, 2005

Mountains is the newest project from Koen Holtkamp and Brendon Anderegg, a duo that makes up half of the Brooklyn-based Apestaartje collective, a label dedicated to "gradual music and active listening." Musically, the two have worked together before under the name Aero & Anderegg, with each person also releasing solo projects in addition to their duties as label heads. Both sonically and aesthetically, many of the labels' releases come across as American-based analogues to Jon Wozencroft's Touch label - warm, evolving sounds that combine acoustic instrumentation with computer processing, tied together with carefully designed packaging mostly coming from the in-house design team col_r (run by Holtkamp in conjunction with Chi Hyun Kim). That the label isn't a more well-known name is rather surprising, as those responsible for planning and designing the releases take great pains to unify everything visually and aurally in ways that few labels can match.

Mountains’ self-titled release collects four long pieces that seem like exemplary case studies in "gradual music and active listening." Nothing here is immediately apparent - Holtkamp and Anderegg are intent on taking the most scenic route possible from point A to B, beginning with subtle acoustic guitars or pianos slowly manipulated into gorgeous enveloping drones or enhanced with graceful field recordings. Opener "Paper Windmill" takes these basic elements on a slow stroll; the guitars gently, complement simple piano notes and sustained cello phrases as pastoral field recordings gradually weave things together. Things slowly develop into a shimmering drone, albeit one that is carefully assembled in a way that allows all elements to shine - unabashed melodicism mingles with more experimental composition techniques without either element managing to dominate.

"Down Under the Manhattan Bridge Overpass" pursues a somewhat different tactic. Here, a more ominous acoustic melody takes center stage, going from sparse finger picking to more urgent figures while providing an interesting contrast to the complementing drones and aquatic recordings that pulse throughout. Its 16 minutes cascade by in less than a heartbeat, making for one of the most evocative and breathtaking stretches on the album. "Blown Glass Typewriters" takes a more low key approach, spending its time ruminating on a series of clicks, faintly processed instruments, and more laconic acoustic guitars.

The only real misstep on the album comes with the finale, "Sunday 07.25.04 Live at Tonic." Initially focusing on more low end rumblings than anything else, the first half of the track breaks the continuity that had been so diligently established. It does eventually come around in the last 10 minutes or so, but still seems like it would have been better suited for inclusion on a different record, or at the very least done with some tighter editing.

There is little that is particularly groundbreaking about Mountains' music, but that hardly detracts from the end result - impeccably crafted, often gorgeous tunes that appease quickly in their overt melodicism, and yet contain layer upon layer of studious detail that reveals itself only after multiple listens. Holtkamp and Anderegg manage to comb through so many different textures and styles of folk, electronic, and modern composition, and yet always maintain strong, individual voices that never fall into the pitfalls of simplistic genre exercises. Far from being just the debut of a new project, Mountains represents an excellent snapshot of the continuing evolution of two creative, talented and confident collaborators.

By Michael Crumsho

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