Tuesday, February 10, 2009
Plenum: Mountains-- Choral
Every now and again drone is used as the means to end, rather than the end in itself. This is an important distinction particularly during a time when drone is the guiding principal in so much experimental music. I am reminded of a band like Growing, who despite having shared philosophical roots and a shared audience with doom and stoner metal, their use of drone relies on what it makes possible rather than what it takes away.
And now there is Mountains, with their new album Choral coming out this month from Thrill Jockey. I am going to take a chance here and say that I think it will be difficult to think about drone in the same way once this record gets its proper reception.
On Choral, there is a lesson that when reduced to it's almost primal elements, pop music is still only made up the fundamentals. And when you begin to take them apart, as I think Tape also does to great effect in their recent album, you are forced to have to listen in a new way. Most people don't want to. It requires work. It means having to be willing to wait, sometimes for a long time, for any kind of illumination. What Mountains offer a sure path by demanding that at intervals, you slow down and listen carefully to what may or may not be coming next. But this is what makes something like Mountains' new album so exciting. It doesn't condesend with a kind of drone or noise that refuses to teach.
In the titular song "Choral," for example there is a subtle, yet exteremly detailed enviroment of sound, but if you don't wait for it, or if you dismiss the flourishes as merely artifacts of the drone, then this isn't the album for you.
I have been struck lately about how many new releases are taking this kind of risk to build upon drone, but often the results are mere noodling about with sqeaks and squaks with the ubiquitious homebuilt oscillator, than any kind of crafted layering. Mountains takes you along the drone and points out all the beauty along the way.
Some of the songs use beautiful guitar picking and strumming to set the stage and then return to the central musical themes of the album. This, too, feels like an important risk, because sometimes we need to be reminded of melody, that this is an essential element as well. But then the guitar will slowly get washed away by fuzz and Mountains drift off again into the timelessness of the drone in a way that again, forces concentration.
We often think of meditation as a passive state, but it actually is a strange mix of concentration and letting go. We have to push ourselves towards the emptiness, and then not get attached once we are there. It's something special when music offers us the same opportunity.