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Album Review

The two gentlemen that make up Mountains are longtime friends and collaborators Brendon Anderegg and Koen Holtkamp, founders of the Apestaartje imprint. The group name was conjured by the pair — who have been interested in everything from electronic music, minimalism, drone and Eastern tonalities, kosmiche and Krautrock since they were in middle school — as a specific identity for crafting music in front of a live audience. Choral is their third recording and their first to appear on Thrill Jockey; their self-titled debut and Sewn were both self-released on Apestaartje. While the label press release namechecks Fennesz and Brian Eno, there is something far less minimal and far more intricate going on here. Mountains lists everything from acoustic and electric guitars to accordion, cello, pianos, organs, and voices, to synths, melodicas, books, metal bowls, electronics, and even field recordings. The set was recorded live in front of an audience with a few (literally) overdubs added later to add a more "choral" like effect to some tracks. The sounds here are rich with references, from Terry Riley (a profound sense of affinity is here) and Popol Vuh to Harmonia and Cluster. The regal and rhythmic sensibilities of the latter are tied to the signature sense of drones and organic approaches of the former. That said, this music doesn't really sound like any of the obvious references. It is elegant, seamless, and full of surprises and dramatic moments. The electronic "glitches," clicks, and noise don't usurp the sounds of the musical instruments, any more than the field recordings — such as a dynamic thunderstorm over the Arizona desert in "Telescope" — do the electronics. "Map Table," with its meld of 12-string guitars, multivalent sonic atmospheres, skeletal single-note melodies, and scalar strings is woven together by loops, live performance, and live multi-tracking. The sense of sprawl is maximal — when guitar harmonics are played inside the sounds of ice water "playing" books! Dislocational as it all is, it still feels warm, subtle, enveloping, and compelling, as if something were unfolding musically all on its own just as an image captured by time lapse photography seems to be. Amazingly enough, Choral would not have sounded out of place on the Tompkins Square imprint, given its sense of history and mystery being enveloped by a largely organic sounding use of technology — that label's James Blackshaw uses it quite liberally and somewhat similarly, but this music sounds nothing like his. Better to think perhaps of Ben Chasny's Six Organs of Admittance as backed by Harmonia and produced by Florian Fricke. But the strangest thing is, it all comes out Mountains. This mysterious, utterly gorgeous recording will certainly enchant, and perhaps even haunt anyone who takes the time to listen even once. That said, try as you might, you can listen a hundred times and not catch all the utterly magical, deeply moving, and beautifully arresting aural majesty to be found on Choral.


Formed: Brooklyn, NY

Genre: Alternative

Years Active: '00s, '10s

Brooklyn-based ambient/experimental rock duo Mountains formed in Chicago around the talents of Brendon Anderegg and Koen Holtkamp. Friends since middle school, the pair founded their own label in 1999 while attending the school at the Art Institute of Chicago. Apestaartje became a vehicle for both collaborations and individual projects, and eventually live performance. Mountains recorded two albums of experimental ambient music for the label that drew comparisons to Fennesz, Brian Eno, and Popol...
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Choral, Mountains
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