October 26, 2006

Mountaineer’s Masterpiece

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Usually when I listen to a new song or album, I automatically imagine where it would fit in a movie soundtrack. Often, songs provide a good background for some scene, complimenting moods or images, while not overpowering them. Mountaineer’s third album, When the Air is Bright They Shine completely sets my usual musical analysis on its axis, since the album is so vibrant and multilayered, it paints a picture on its own. Henning Wandhoff and Katja Raine seem to realize this, limiting the lyrical content to simple, beautiful verse and short, non-overpowering vocals, so that the instrumental content has the ability not to shine, but rather to shimmer through.
That’s probably the best thing about this album in general: it focuses on the instrumental component, and contains the lyrical/vocal component to short, less intrusive verses. While most groups mask their subpar, mediocre music with over the top lyrics, overly loud instruments, or overly emotive vocalists, Mountaineer takes the brave plunge, relying solely on their musical talent to convey the artistic merits of their album. And it’s successful: Somehow, they’ve managed to make what would otherwise be a quiet, folksy set – not loud, not gimmicky – into something incredibly complicated and strong.
I’ll admit it: on my first listen, I wasn’t paying much attention and was ready to discard the album as just being sweet and folksy. Unlike most albums, Mountaineer’s “When the air is Bright they shine” seems mundanely sweet at first, and then when you actually process it: Bam!, it becomes this bright, shining piece that with each listen just displays more and more hidden jewels and facets. For one, each song is remarkably different, in and of itself a reason to love the album, if only because even the best albums start to sound stylistically repetitive after the first few songs. Not so for this Hamburg-based group: “A Town Called Ivanhoe” has a Parisian, patisserie feel, “A Line for Every Letter” is sweet and sunshiny, yet the tone shifts once again with the ethereal, spring rain image put forth by “Eliza.” The album continues being unpredictable and tonally driven, each following song a contrast to the last in terms of tempo.
While each song stands out, it’s the overall mood of the album which makes it such a rave. The vast compilation of different instruments gives every track a different style, feel, and imaginative locale, all of which contribute to the whole of the album’s unclassifiable feel. If I have any criticisms it’s that Wandhoff’s low, thrummy voice sometimes takes away from the sheer pleasure in piecing together the different elements of each song. But when Wandhoff and Raine harmonize together, especially in “Leave It All Behind”, the effect would be haunting if it weren’t so happy. Either way, I could take each song nude of its vocals, which is a stunning contrast to today’s indie/emo driven emphasis on lyrics over any real instrumental basis. One thing to be said for the album: be prepared to devote all attention to listening; it’ll never work as the background to homework, tryst, or scene for a movie, because youll forget what you were doing to focus entirely on the music.