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Mountains - Air Museum

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Artist: Mountains

Album: Air Museum

Label: Thrill Jockey

Review date: May. 9, 2011


Mountains - "Thousand Square" (Air Museum)


Itís ironic that Mountains would call its fourth full-length Air Museum. The record seems ahistorical, oblivious to the musical past ó or its present or future, for that matter. Even the groupís own background seems unwanted. For the seven pieces here, Brendon Anderegg and Koen Holtkamp entered a studio for the first time, but more significantly, jettisoned the computer as a processing tool for their acoustic instrumentation, and in its place relied on a battery of pedals and modular synths.

The trademark Mountains subtlety, however, is still very much present. In their compositions, Anderegg and Holtkamp rely not on the dramatic gesture but the nudge, theirs being not an art of arranging but of shaping. On their lauded 2009 album, Choral, they used this touch to turn extended droning forms into studies in gradual melodic development. On Air Museum, theyíve turned more toward rhythm and pulse. So the melodies now are more like elegant patterns tattooing out micro-rhythms, and the ever-present warm timbral glow the two do so well has become a kind of undertow, a more urgent wave motion. Sequences of notes coil around each other in taut helixes. Pieces donít fade out but arrive at a few essential notes then stop.

If it wasnít clear before, this concision shows that Holtkamp and Anderegg arenít chasing any idea of the infinite with their open-ended structures and opaque sound. Itís the finite they are interested in, the way we understand specific moments in time or hear fine transitions between one sound event and the next. Itís fitting that the transformations their new techniques create have left the duoís process nearly invisible, as by ear alone it would be impossible to say this album wasnít almost purely electronic. Itís another way in which Mountains seem intent on covering their tracks, of getting people to look not at where theyíve been, but where they are.

By Matthew Wuethrich

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