Koen Holtkamp and Brendon Andereggare are two of the thousands who create music designed to flutter and hum away while you're focused on another task. Call it ambient music's albatross: how to convince listeners you're offering more than vacuously pretty living room music for bathroom-cleaning or reading Chabon. But more on that in a minute. Choral is the Brooklyn duo's fourth proper full-length and marks their Thrill Jockey debut. Perhaps attuned to this change, it's their most expansive recording to date, stretching their folk-flecked drone music into a more pronounced reliance on deliberate repetition and gentle surface warmth.
Mountains has long emphasized the birth of their music in front of an audience, and Choral is largely the product of real-time performances from last year. The set was recorded live and then stitched together later with minimal overdubs, with organs, electric pianos, synthesizers, accordions, and guitars layered into the mix. As with their past work, there are plenty of suitable RIYLs for Mountains' sound—from the dead forest folk of John Fahey or Ben Chasny to the shimmery kosmiche of Popul Vuh or the buzzing drone of Tim Hecker or Christian Fennesz. But as difficult as it is for ambient composers to find their own niche, it's clear that Mountains have forged one. Choral is a work of sly immensity for the subtlety of its goals: to distract and draw you in while playing at wallpapering.
There's a natural tendency on first exposure to Choral to simply let it whirr away its runtime against whatever you're doing; it's beautiful enough from the surface to write it off as insubstantial Zoloft fare. But Mountains create atmospheres of immense sonic detail and instrumental nuance for their clear sentimentality, and more than a cursory listen to Choral slowly unveils its complexity. The title track, "Choral," is their most immersive composition to date, rippling out across thirteen minutes from its initial core of sparking tones and lustrous morning-burst waves of sound into another of their bare, open-vista acoustic guitar excursions. The song emphasizes the duo's patient shape-shifting, the way they progress without much noticeable change or shift from the top to another creation entirely by slowly filtering in new instruments and subtle melodic subcurrents.
"Melodica" begins with the twinkling bells of a symphony warming itself into first movement heat, slowly coalescing from scattered parts and individual components into a swell of cohesive sound. But this sudden movement towards concert—this moment when you hear so many once distinct lines merged into some pulsing, glowing new sequence—sets Mountains apart. You hear it again on "Telescope," which sandpapers jaunty acoustic guitar strums into snow-blind ambience, dissolving into a white sea of dissonant soft noise. A novelty of sorts for the two, "Add Infinity" flirts with the wry shyness of shoegaze; its circular guitars function more as anchor than sail, allowing the two to play around in its instrumental depth without sacrificing its outward appeals. It's a highlight for a duo that excels in how they reshuffle the bottom of their deck sonically, one of many on the talented duo's best record yet.
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Tracklist: Mountains - Choral 01. Choral
02. Map Table
04. Add Infinity
06. Sheets Two
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