Mountains – Centralia
Mountains have spent about a decade exploring vast landscapes of ambiance and drones, but Centralia is their first effort to match the majesty and depth of the duo’s moniker. Like most of the group’s work (and ambient music in general), comparisons to Eno are inevitable, but here the allusions seem more apt than ever—the cover recalls the map artwork for Eno’s Ambient series and a few of the synth-and-string waves and crescendos recall his more transcendent, widescreen work like Another Green World‘s “The Big Ship.” But mostly, Eno acts as a touchstone because Centralia‘s music serves double-duty, rewarding close listening and working as evocative “wallpaper music.” Plus, what sets Koen Holtkamp and Brendon Anderegg apart from many of their contemporaries is their ability to interweave acoustic (even borderline folky) elements with their electronics in a way that feels organic and rich, like how “Circular C” merges pensive piano chords and a guitar arpeggio with swirling synths or when mournful cellos rise on the coda to “Sand,” triggering a revelatory tonal shift. And unlike most mood music, Centralia is more willing to examine different atmospheres and emotions, jumping from sorrowful, guitar-based dirges like “Identical Ship” and “Tilt” to the feedback squall that ends “Liana” and the aquatic, dreamlike “Living Lens.” But most impressive of all is the 20-minute centerpiece, “Propeller.” Soft, pulsing whooshes pick up speed, giving way to cascading layers of white noise and punctuating bass tones, all building slowly and imperceptibly to a vaporizing climax. It’s a composition that’s filled with powerful drones and mind-cleansing noise, yet it’s somehow human, nostalgic and gorgeous, much like Centralia itself.