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Mountains - Sewn

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Artist: Mountains

Album: Sewn

Label: Apestaartje

Review date: Feb. 5, 2006

Hearing is supposed to be the most evocative sense, the one most likely to conjure and anchor memories. Sewn, the new Mountains release, is shot through with ghosts of experiences past, like a testament to music’s place in remembrance.

The disconnect, of course, is that Sewn isn’t a memory – it came out last week, and so it belongs to the déjà vu/nostalgia vein, that comfortable category of songs which feel like they come from inside the listener’s heart. From the first listen, you’ve heard the songs in some long-forgotten life and can’t place them. They replicate the struggle for recognition felt when trying to remember a forgotten word: “You know, that thing that goes with salt. Oh, right, pepper.”

“Hundred Acre” was easy to identify – it immediately conjured the title music to Chariots of Fire, and you’re on the beach at St. Andrew’s with Vangelis by your side. Mountains have stretched out to 13 minutes when Vangelis’s first long (synth?) bass tone rips in, underneath static surf right before the start of the soaring melody. It’s a great moment, fraught with melodrama, and it deserves to be recreated out of field recordings and the synthesizers of the digital era.

“Bay” took longer to pin down, but finally its key changes took on the exquisite sadness of the score to In the Mood for Love, its ache of love unconsummated. The piece bores down to the depths of sonic memory and mines one’s reserves of remembered tears, all those movies that you cried all the way through, the years spent staring at the ceiling and waiting for Richard Youngs to pluck an ecstatically wrong note.

Sewn is informed by two disparate musical styles. “Sewn Two” and “Bay” are melodic meditations driven by fingerpicked acoustic guitar, while “Below” and “Hundred Acre” are granular, amelodic, tonal constructions of synthesized and natural samples. Each approach bleeds into the other; for instance, an impressionistic wash backs up the guitar on “Bay.” Sometimes, such as in the introductory “Sewn One,” the styles seem fully commingled – processed organ and string drones persist in harmony with the purr of a motorcycle.

The personal connections that it evokes makes Sewn an intensely private record. Hearing it on the stereo at the record store is pure psychic pain, like having one’s guts ripped out and displayed in the public square. Something so beautifully fragile can easily be shattered by scrutiny.

By Josie Clowney

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