Mountains Sewn

[Apestaartje; 2006]

Rating: 3/5

Styles: minimalist drone, free improve, ambient Americana musique concrète
Others: Thuja, Colleen, Fog, Brian Eno

Sewn is the sophomore effort from Brendon Anderegg and Koen Holtkamp, the New York duo who operate the Brooklyn-based Apestaartje, a label concentrating on a variety of minimalist-oriented electro-acoustic acts. As Mountains, one of several collaborative projects shared by Anderegg and Holtkamp, the two create a soothing, ambient synthesis of field recordings, gentle electronic soundscapes, and pastoral acoustic guitar, with the overall effect being a sort of modern and introspective take on musique concrète. Mountains specialize in a quiet and unobtrusive niche region of laptop folk, with characteristics aligning it as much with new age as with the experimental electronic genre. Soft, fingerpicked guitar and a beatless, glacial pace feature heavily on most of these eight tracks, making it appropriate for background music, office ambience, and perhaps even inspiration for contemplative activities such as writing and meditation. But if Sewn is new age music, then it is new age with a decidedly postmodern bent.

Like their contemporaries Thuja and several other artists on the Jewelled Antler Collective roster, Mountains make serene, bucolic music that contains subtle undertones of menace if you're listening hard enough for it. Hissing and crackling like the disintegration of electronic circuits, the incidental sounds of digitalia fill up the spaces between the live, acoustic instrumentation and field recordings (which range from the sounds of cicadas and babbling brooks to darker, more threatening recordings such as thunderstorms). Elsewhere, tenebrous drones and high-end, synthetic feedback serve as a counterbalance to the album's earthier components.

The middle section of the album, consisting of the tracks "Bay," "Below," and "Interlude," serves, more or less, as a suite of dense, texturally-shifting tracks that fleshes out Sewn, augmenting it with a weightier, more substantial quality. The haunting, minor-key acoustic guitar on "Bay" imparts the track with a subtle Spanish flavor. Tense and dramatic, the piece is the high point of the album. The following two tracks favor Mountains' more inorganic side, as the acoustic components are kept to a minimum. Moody and atmospheric, "Below" and "Interlude" are expansive, spacious pieces with a wider and more dynamic range than the rest of the album. The pieces unfold slowly, eventually revealing a grandiose musical vision of which the other tracks merely provide a glimpse.

The acoustic and occasional pedal steel guitar, surrounded as they are by their blanket of environmental atmospherics, give Sewn a distinctly American presence. Though a reductionist might simply think of Mountains in terms of it being "ambient Americana," these tracks evoke images of the Great Plains in the springtime rather than the more tempestuous regions of the country. Slight and benign, Sewn affects the listener with a sense of foreboding like a damp, cool breeze before the rain, until it ultimately dissipates, leaving a vague impression of unfulfilled longing in its wake.

1. Sewn One
2. Sewn Two
3. Simmer
4. Bay
5. Below
6. Interlude
7. Hundred Acre
8. Sheets