Mountains - Centralia

by Rich Morris Rating:6 Release Date:2013-01-21

It's intense chill-out time on this album from knob-twiddling duo Koen Holtkamp and Brendon Anderegg. Centralia's opening track, 'Sand', is very kosmische, very Tangerine Dream, very Eno. This is music which seeks to transport you to another place. Despite its title, 'Sand' conjures images of swirling marine life and horizonless glacial landscapes. Everything evolves at a sedentary pace; synths twinkle and gurgle self-satisfyingly, textures and pads tessellate and layer over each other. Eventually, a lone cello draws out a mournful melody, extending single notes as if to underline the permanence of the landscape we're surveying.

And it's certainly very beautiful. Unfortunately, after this the landscape the music inhabits too often seems to have a default setting of 'enchanted forest', full of dancing, laughing pixies. Second track 'Identical Ship' mixes mournful, folkie guitar-picking with gloopy, slightly disquieting synths. The two sounds never quite gel, while the guitar occasionally chops or stutters, creating an undertow of menace only partially relieved by the appearance of an echo-splashed piano near the end.

'Circular C' introduces a cooler, sci-fi vibe before it all goes a bit new age with some more guitar-picking and burbling synths. At 10-minutes-plus, 'Circular C' does not develop any near as much as it needs to. There's a difference between building slowly and just sticking with one groove, and the groove this track has is just not interesting enough to warrant the time it takes up. The same is true of the following 'Tilt', although at least the folk guitar develops an actual tune, and the cello returns to lend some gravitas. It still feels like we're stuck in that fucking faerie-filled forest though.

The 20-minute 'Propeller' takes a welcome trip back to kosmische territory. Its bed of star-field synths and abstract, rhythmic guitar apparently comes from a recording of a live performance which was embellished in the studio. The result is an expansive, fee-ranging work, underscoring how good it feels to be out of the claustrophobic forest and its irritating mystic gubbins.

Following track 'Liana' boasts some lovely gurgling synth sounds. Although they're nothing we haven't heard before by this point in the album, the subtle, insinuating percussion is new and very welcome. The big feedback drone which emerges towards the track's end, however, just feels incongruous, especially when it breaks into power chords at the end. Why? Are the faeries rocking out now?

The closing 'Living Lens' begins with a repeating, expectant piano melody which feels quite DJ Shadow, before this drops away to leave a cello and synth dirge. It's a fitting end to an album which has some gorgeous moments but too often relies on a limited sound palette, repeating figures until they become irksome or just a little boring. There's certainly some good stuff on Centralia but not enough to make it essential.

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