In the traditional terms, it's hard to describe the kind of music Brooklyn-based electro-acoustic duo Mountains make: instrumental soundscapes created by layers and layers of low, minimal synthesizer tones that both arpeggiate and drone, matched with cyclical acoustic guitar melodies and doleful piano lines. It's music that's beautiful, but it's not music you put on to sing a familiar chorus, it's not music to pick you up, and it's not music to bring you down. It's music for wanderlust, body and mind. And that's the special thing about Mountains; Koen Holtkamp and Brendon Anderegg craft music that you can feel just as much as your ears can listen. The music has an undeniable texture that constantly fluctuates, both slowly and surprisingly, into boundless, vast expanses. On opener "Sand," Mountains build to a great, palpable crescendo before quietly turning the song in on itself, ending it in a moment of sonic reflection via a quelling cello. This is a template they follow for most compositions on the album, the most ambitious being the 20-minute "Propeller," and they pull it off with an uncanny ease. For most part, this is because, although the music is largely made by electronics, each track pulsates with heart, always twisting and hypnotic. "Circular C" has both pitch-perfect guitar work -- a little Jack Rose meets Six Organ's Ben Chasny -- and a lovely, lilting piano that cascades and falls over a murmur of bubbling modular synth tones. Belying an earlier point, it's this mix of organic and inorganic, soft sounds matched by icy timbres, that keeps the album so interesting. Plus, who would have guessed a band like Mountains would pull out all the stops and go for broke with power chords to grand effect on the penultimate track, "Liana"? This is Mountains' fourth album and they not only sound more impressive, but more inspired.
In fact, many stretches of Centralia
, especially "Tilt," actually remind me of an OM favorite, the surf soundtrack, Sea of Joy
, by '70s Australian psych-folk group Tully; just like that record, the music here is on another level, it sounds as deep as the ocean and reflects the power and magnitude of the ever-shifting ebb and flow of the waves of sound Mountains create. I love Sea of Joy
because it's beguiling, rolling and, at times, intense, but that natural flow is actually pretty hard to achieve these days. As a band, you have to avoid the trappings of overly long improvisation as well as the constructs of "epic" compositional rock long practiced by post-rock groups like Explosions in the Sky. On Centralia
, Mountains do just that. This is their best yet, gorgeous, plain and simple.
-Pamela Garavano-Coolbaugh (January 25, 2013)