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Sneak peak: Alex Mountaineer

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Adam Walton Adam Walton | 15:46 UK time, Tuesday, 1 December 2009

Of all the Welsh musical achievements of the past decade, I hope that those of Penyffordd / Wrexham's Mountaineers aren't forgotten in the inevitable snowstorm of Best of Decade lists.

Their 2001 debut EP on Liverpool's influential Deltasonic label (The Coral, The Zutons, Candie Payne) is still one of the most idiosyncratic and imaginative of recent memory. Who else, before or since, has marred acoustic strums to marimbas, crunching beats and White Album-esque melodies?

The fact that they subsequently got signed by the legendary Mute Records is achievement in itself, that their debut album, 2003's Messy Century, was glittering with foresight, digital liberation and a compelling schizophrenia, should have been enough to secure their place in Wales' musical history.

But I get the feeling that the Mountaineers have been forgotten. They weren't from one of the 'cooler' parts of Wales; they moved to Liverpool at the first opportunity to seek their fortunes and they were never jingoistic about where they came from. So Wales kind of forgot them.

And like many artists who revelled in the mysterious anonymity of those Cubase-enabled times, the label dream soured as traditional overblown recording and production budgets felt the first chill effects of file sharing and industry panic about the 'new digital model'.

Despite the clever brilliance of Messy Century, the Mountaineers found themselves deserted at the first peak. Mute cleared off with all the ropes, carabiners and crampons. Alex, Ceri and Tomas lost themselves to each other as the mists and winds descended. One final EP, the grandly titled Motions of Interplanetary Dust (2005), came out to critical acclaim, but little actual support. The Mountaineers packed their gear up and went into hiding.

I never forgot them. I loved that band. I loved the reach in their music. I loved Alex's soulful voice and the frontiersman attitude they had to the sounds that tumbled out of their laptops. I loved the way that they married these off kilter breaks, bleeps and sweeps to acoustic guitars. But that slight mystery and anonymity - geekiness, even - that would a few years later help propel Hot Chip to cool ubiquity with a pretty similar aesthetic, meant that their star dwindled in a sky lit by the tabloid excesses of Pete Doherty et al.

Ah well. Our loss.

Or, is it?

This week my rarely-checked MySpace inbox was blessed by two tumbling-over-their-own-enthusiasm messages from Alex Mountaineer. Without wishing to copy it verbatim the essence was this: "I'm doing a degree in music. I'm working with people who play instruments not obviously rock n roll. Why is radio crap?"

You'd think I'd have a particular insight into that last question. But I don't. It's akin to asking Dirk Kuyt how he became a professional footballer when he has supermarket trolley wheels for feet.

Anyway. I read Alex's messages, trotted dutifully over to his myspace page, and heard wonder after wonder after wonder.

Don't believe me? Hear here: myspace.com/alexmountaineer

It's the musical equivalent of Studio Ghibli. Praise from my fingertips comes no higher.

I'm going to e-mail interview Alex next week. I was going to do it now, but I have to drive to Birmingham to see Future of the Left. Casually dropped in that, wasn't it?

While I'm tootling along the M6, please absorb Alex's tuneful gifts of ace. We'll find out where they came from next week.

Now, where are my flipping earplugs?


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