As their band name (Mountains), their new album (Choral), and several of their song titles (“Add Infinity”) suggest, the Brooklyn guitar duo of Brendon Anderegg and Koen Holtkamp are after something pastoral, monolithic, and intangible with their music, crafting a dichotomy between a natural and an imaginary world that helps distinguish them from other ambient, laptop-filtered guitar groups. Another important distinction: their devotion to the guitar itself. Those first encountering Mountains’ music might be surprised by the fact that almost 80 percent of it is created with a simple acoustic, albeit one that’s been stretched and scrubbed with computers and effects pedals.
“A lot of people don’t necessarily use the acoustic guitar with a lot of distortion,” notes Anderegg. “I like it. It has a bite—sometimes, I’ll use the electric when we’re practicing, and it sounds a little more flat.” This predilection is both startling and, upon reflection, unsurprising: For example, Choral‘s opening title track introduces itself with a warm, burbling sound that’s too digitized to be organic and too placenta-coated to be computerized. “Oh, you mean that little percolating sound?” Holtkamp says, revealing a slight smile. “Yeah, that’s an acoustic played through pedals.”
As with past Mountains albums, much of Choral involves discrete, improvised parts that are slowly, elegantly splayed over one another, yet once a single element gradually engenders a ballooning morass of sound, it’s difficult to retrospectively isolate where those transitions started—or ended. “A lot of the reason our songs are kind of long is because it takes us a while to build up a coherent sound,” Anderegg says. “And I think that’s really important for us: to have a really coherent song, and for it not to just be all over the place.”
Choral is the closest that Mountains have come to having their music sonically replicate the imagery of their name. “I think the expansiveness of that image, of mountains—that’s part of why we chose the name,” says Holtkamp. “On an even more literal level, compositionally and structurally, we wanted something that reflects what the music was about, how things overlap.” And never underestimate the effect that plurality can have on a title: On its own, the singular “Mountain” proffers an image of towering imposition—or, alternately, being passed out on a bathroom floor while “Mississippi Queen” roars in the background. Well aware of the ’70s hard-rock band by that name, Anderegg archly sidesteps any possibility for confusion. “If we were called ‘Tortoises,’ then that would be a problem.”
Mountains play the Stone February 26