It’s huge and it’s beautiful, and no less natural than the tide.
Andrzej Lukowski 2009
While ambient music is never really going to be a genre overly appealing to showboaters, along the fringes it’s certainly become a subtly more aggressive beast this decade. From Fennesz’s immersive blasts of static to Deerhunter’s experiments with ‘ambient punk’ and the rise of drone metal, the boundaries between traditional ambience and ear-splitting washes of sound have become increasingly porous.
However, while Brooklynite duo Mountains have some moments that recall Fennesz’s silvery vistas, for the most part the duo of Brendon Anderegg and Koen Holtkamp imbue their music with a note of old-fashioned modesty. Though this year’s gorgeous album Choral may have technically been an electronic record, at heart it was a very organic affair, warm plinks of live instrumentation occasionally brushing up to quiet sighs of machine-begot melody that drifted forward almost imperceptibly, moving with all the hurry of a turning season or drifting continent.
More understatement comes in the form of Etching. Though billed as a live album, it’s only ‘live’ in the sense that the solitary 40 minute track was recorded in Andregg’s studio in one take, and is a recreation of the earliest incarnation of their Choral tour set. One seamless piece of music shorn of all non-electronic trappings, faint echoes of Choral’s eight separate tracks can be very occasionally discerned, but to all intents and purposes this is a completely new work. It sounds nothing like a traditional, song-based set, with no stops or starts or dramatic fluctuations in the energy level. Instead the solitary track’s gargantuan running time allows Mountains to actually write a piece that can allow their delicate pace to accommodate a genuine crescendo, loud and expansive as those less-subtle peers.
Though Etching may be born in the soft tinkle and caress of its languid, misty early phase, a whopping 29 minutes in and it’s managed to discreetly swell to such dimensions as to birth a grainy snowstorm of lush distortion without seeming unduly bombastic. It’s huge and it’s beautiful, and yet in taking its time still it feels no less natural than ebbing of the tide.