Sunday, May 10, 2009

Choral - Mountains


Thrill Jockey Records.

SCQ Rating: 64%

I make the mistake of expecting too much from albums, many of which seemingly belonging to the ambient tag. Maybe it’s because I own several ambient albums that I adore to the point of envy, while the other 40% of them stare longingly with pristine spines; easily listenable, easily neglected. If you’d like to know the true, unedited theory on ambient records loitering the corners of my mind, I’d have to admit that an ambient record is only as potent as your mood. Flung headfirst into an anxiety-ridden or sexually exhausting relationship, you could grab any well-conceived ambient record and make it your personal therapy/sex-romp-aftermath soundtrack and chances are, you’ll grow to love it. Dropped from your fantasy job or dream girl, you could blindly choose any ambient piece from a respected label and likely find solace. Because listening to this genre requires an understanding far less tangible than your average litmus test of relatable lyrics and six-degrees-of-band-separation. When you decide to throw on an ambient record, you’re really choosing to explore the innermost recesses of your mind. In other words, you’re choosing to zone the fuck out… and what you hear might reflect what you innately feel.

So for those uninterested in my self-absorbed theory and those who simply want to know about Choral, the latest album by duo Brendon Anderegg and Koen Holtkamp: yes, it’s a soothing, quaint album, one that carves its own niche by incorporating so many analogue instruments, it’s arguably post-rock. As moody guitar-piece ‘Map Table’ cautiously branches into softly descending arpeggios, ‘Telescope’ takes standard strumming and drowns it in fuzzy atmospherics. The twelve-minute title track bodes well by accomplishing some mighty classy tempo switches but similar long-form techniques are wasted with ‘Add Infinity’, a track whose title arguably gives away their songwriting playbook. Their choice of which tracks to run toward infinity with is also a shame, since ‘Sheets Two’ is a tenth of the length but deserves the real fleshing-out.

The majority of Choral would be thrilling if listened to while an approaching storm blew in, but I’m stuck with it on my morning underground-commutes. Now far be it from me to lambast a record for requiring conditional listening; that’s partly an issue with my given listening environment. This is a fine album and Mountains prove themselves quite able to execute affecting ambient-drone. Yet is Choral’s relatively minor impact on my life, here and now, a reaction to my considerably settled lifestyle (no firings, breakups or new relationships present) or does my ho-hum reaction stem from the whole album’s contentment with settling? I mean, these six songs could be natural, individual craters of one endless plateau; never peaking, never arching in any exciting manner. There’s a difference between being happily settled and plain bored; zone out with Choral for an hour and you might experience both.

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