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Mountains and Miniatures

20 Apr

A few weeks ago I found myself at Treehouse Records browsing through their “New Arrivals” bin and contemplating change. This was me, seven years ago, except you’d have to substitute Cheapo for Treehouse and substitute “Used CD’s” for “New Arrivals” and substitute the album I did buy (Mountains, Choral) with a used God Street Wine disc that I still have, somewhere, and have probably listened to all of three times. I should sell it back to Cheapo and see if the quarter they offer me for it is any less insulting than it used to be.

I was reminded of this past me mostly by the familiarity of the activity – fingering through album after album, stopping at the ones that seemed interesting (although I couldn’t tell you why), and often leaving the store having purchased something by a band I’d never heard of. This can be risky but ultimately quite rewarding if it’s the music you’re after. I suppose if you’re more of a music-as-apparel buyer (“Oh yeah, I bought that album, it’s great, I like it a lot. You can come over and I’ll burn it for you!”), you’ll already have planned out all the records you would consider buying and we’ll leave it at that, but occasionally it’s a good idea to grab something you’ve never heard of, which is what I did at Treehouse that day.

Here's a picture of the album cover.

Here's a picture of the album cover.

Hard to say what it reminds me of, or tells me, but it got my attention for some reason (and interestingly, I would later find it as one of six images in Entertainment Weekly, the game being that three of the images were album covers and the other five were wall paper samples and you were intended to identify which was which – I got this record and Animal Collective right, but didn’t know the third one.) The band was called Mountains, and the album entitled Choral, both of which seemed fairly safe, given my general love of mountains and my over-all enjoyment of choruses. The back of the record informed me that it was a Thrill Jockey release (not a bad sign), and among the list of instruments used I found that a glockenspiel was utilized, which sealed the deal.

“Ever heard of these guys?” I asked the guy at the counter as I spent $17 blindly.

“Nope,” he said.

Or maybe it was the “Limited Release – Only 2000 printed” sticker than enticed me, because clearly some barely known School of Art Institute of Chicago graduates named Brendon Anderegg and Koen Holtkamp (friends since childhood) are going to make a record so monumental that by having a first-edition copy of it will propel me into the upper echelon of the rare record society. Only 2000 printed = Fame & Fortune, does it not?

So how was the album? Good, actually. Really good. Recorded mostly live and utilizing field recordings from a thunderstorm on the Arizonian desert, it’s slow and vast and aching – great late night writing music, which, frankly, is harder to find than you might think.

A day later, enthused by my gamble, I did it again in a different format. I don’t even remember how I got to the web page, but I found that the atmospheric rock orchestral one-man band known as Eluvium is in fact a gentleman named Matthew Robert Cooper, and that he had recently released an album called Miniatures, which I impulsively purchased using my almost forgotten Paypal account. mrc_cover

Again, perhaps it was the “Only 2000 printed – 1000 on French Vanilla colored wax” that got me, or perhaps it was my sudden recollection that sometimes it’s FUN to not quite know what it that you’re getting, but I hit purchase almost before I had time to contemplate it.

A week later, I got the record (French Vanilla colored wax… yum. It sounds like it’d taste good, doesn’t it?) and took it home and gave it a play, and while equally minimal to the afore-mentioned Mountains album, it’s more forlorn, less warm, more A.M. radio static at three in the morning. Echoing piano phrases travel through the dense space of MRC’s compositions un-impeded until they vanish into the darkness, only to be followed by another chord. A few of the tracks bear close resemblance to an Eluvium track, but it’s the solitary wavering piano chords being fired into the void that resonate with me the most.

The album is issued by Gaarden records, it’s a vinyl-only release, and last I checked they have ONE in stock at Treehouse. If anyone goes out and buys it, let me know if it’s French Vanilla or not – I couldn’t help but wonder.

Be adventurous. Buy something you haven’t heard of this week.

Or if not, read about those who have and follow their examples.

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