Get Lost In Mountains' New Album Centralia, Because That's the Point
Eight years in, Mountains albums arrive with certain expectations attached. There will be gently melancholy expanses of sound. There will be lapping-wave dissolves and cross fades caulked with spectral drone. There will be reed-rustling whispers and dry-heaving synthesizers. There will be the illusion, on the part of the listener, of being incrementally disconnected from his or her nerve endings and immediate surroundings. All of these things will seem to be continuing forever, and it will be awesome.
In a lot of senses, then, there's nothing surprising about Centralia (Thrill Jockey); on the new album, machines and instruments manipulated by the Brooklyn duo of Koen Holtkamp and Brendon Anderegg gurgle, thrum, and rustle unreservedly, reveling in a dizzying, uncommon contentedness. But a new warmth has crept into their conflict-free melees, from the drizzling pinprick electronics defining "Liana" to the raspy, delirious shivers of "Sand" to the threshing, high-altitude head rush of "Propeller."
In the weeks leading up to the release of Centralia, SOTC emailed with Holtkamp and Anderegg about their new album and the evolution of their sound.
How did the whole Centralia concept that surrounds this album originate? Is it symbolic of anything in particular, an island of the imagination, perhaps? It's the second album title of yours in a row that seems to point, in a way, to a physical place.
Koen Holtkamp and Brendon Anderegg: That's an interesting connection. While they're both references to a physical space of some sort, they're meant to be suggestive, leaving ample room for the listener's interpretation. We were thinking of this record as expanding on what we've done in the past, but also combining many of the separate elements and working methods we've used on previous records. So Centralia as a central location or middle ground made a lot of sense.
While we were working on the album, thinking about possible record titles and covers, Koen opened up an old book and on the inside cover of the first page was the image we ended up using for the album cover, a really old stain. This image immediately invoked a map for us which worked naturally with the title Centralia. The title relates directly to the music but also could be seen as an imaginary location where the music comes from.
In terms of combining prior working methods from previous albums, is there a particular song on Centralia that stands out as a full realization of this synthesis?
KH: I think "Circular C" is the most unique in that respect. The track began as a simple piano line and a revolving modular synth sequence. We then played a lot of tracks over it: cymbals, acoustic guitar, cellos, and some more synth parts. While the palette is similar to some other things we've done, the working method and intention were somewhat different. When we were layering these various rhythmic and melodic elements, the piece began to almost blur. It's fairly repetitive and hypnotic, so we mixed it with the intention of having individual instruments come in and out of focus and at times almost become one another. Waves of cello become a synth chord or acoustic guitar mimics the timing of the synth. We wanted to overlap these melodies and textures where they all had a very particular relationship to one another.
"Circular C" has a really interesting rhythmic flow - it's like wandering through an eternal beaded curtain of sounds, with each disruption of a strand triggering a slightly different instrumental element. It's a bit like being on a river, that sort of bobbing and dipping but still a sense of forward motion.
KH: You kinda nailed it in terms of what we were going for. The song started out perhaps midway through the making of the record. We were at a point when we could sort of start to see the larger picture of how the individual tracks we had at that point would start to fit together as an album. We really wanted this album to have a wide dynamic range, so I think "Circular C" just started out as us experimenting with the idea of creating poly rhythms by combining acoustic and electronic sounds one at a time. As we added more and more instruments the piece became intensely dizzying, so in the end we ended up scaling back and taking a few things away.