Hailing from Chicago, post-everything duo Mountains have been releasing music since 2005, yet have remained largely under the radar thus far. Centralia, their fifth full-length release – with an average track length of over nine minutes, not to mention a style of music free of hooks and entirely instrumental – is hardly likely to garner much airplay but this album is not one to be overlooked. Whilst a 66 ½ minute collection of ambient soundscapes doesn’t sound like an appealing listen, it is most certainly well worth the effort.
‘Ambient drone’ is probably the most fitting descriptor for the music but a wide range of influences are clearly apparent – from the folky fingerpicked guitar of ‘Identical Ship’ to the prog synth wanderings of ‘Liana’. Each piece is an exercise in texture with sustained synth pads providing a foundation, whilst melodies evolve and die away as instruments drift in and out. The album opener ‘Sand’ is perhaps the best example of Mountains’ style; an ever-present flickering synth note plays the ‘drone’ role – meandering in and out of prominence as other parts emerge and the music swells. The majority of the piece is a series of slowly changing, interlocking synth parts which merge together and then carefully separate, clearing space in the texture for the thunderous cello line which brings the track to a close.
According to their label, the pair craft each piece a layer at a time. Preferring to use either wholly acoustic or electronic sources for each individual part and taking months to refine their compositions. Whether this purist approach is strictly necessary remains to be seen but a lot of time was obviously taken over details most people will never pay attention to. Two of the tracks – ‘Liana’ and 20-minute epic ‘Propeller’ – were recorded live and fleshed out further in the studio. Whilst watching these tracks being crafted would be an interesting experience, live performances are probably only suited to the most die-hard ambient fans, who will happily stand listening to minutes of white noise on end.
Despite the lengthy tracks, imperceptible structures and overwhelming pretension of the genre – the care taken in the composition of these pieces is unquestionable. Sometimes dull, often beautiful, Centralia will leave you staring into middle-distance with a glazed expression and a smile planted firmly on your face.