It can’t be easy to stick to a style of music that demands close listening, since such aesthetic decisions narrow down an artist’s potential audience enormously. But Brooklyn duo Mountains–aka Brendon Anderegg and Koen Holtkamp–have stuck to their guns for a decade, pursuing a sound that reveals its greatest virtues only to those who really pay attention. They started playing together when both were still students at the Art Institute of Chicago, and on their third proper album, Choral (Thrill Jockey), they continue to sculpt gorgeous, layered, resolutely introverted soundscapes that never rely on beats or vocals.
The music of Mountains could probably work as a soundtrack to a sensory-deprivation tank. But though it’s quiet and meditative, there’s plenty going on beneath the surface calm: Anderegg and Holtkamp create a constant gentle flux using acoustic and electric guitars, keyboards (harmonium, electric piano, melodica, organ, synthesizer), field recordings, and computers. Their beautifully hypnotic, droning pieces arrange fingerstyle guitar patterns, gurgling water, tremulous long tones, and low-register noise (among other sounds) into meticulous, ever-morphing constructions. Seemingly oppositional elements–a ringing guitar chord and a garbled synthetic abstraction, to pick an example from “Map Table”–provide a subtle drama of texture and scale.
Mountains make headphone music, and it’s particularly easy to get lost in their sound world if there are no distractions around. Though their work is hardly hermetic, the listener does have to invest some concentration in order to experience it as more than ambient wallpaper.
I’d think this would live performance a dicey proposition, especially in a rock club, where it’s much harder for attentive audience members to block out the inattentive ones–but since Mountains regularly perform live, I’m guessing they’ve learned a thing or two about keeping people absorbed. You can see for yourself when the duo plays Sunday at the Empty Bottle. Sam Prekop & Archer Prewitt open.