Mountains in the Sky – ‘Electron Suite’

October 24, 2008 § Leave a comment

Published: The Vine, October 24, 2008.

Mountains in the Sky
Electron Suite

The presumption that electronic music is progressive as a result of its form alone is a misguided one. Whether an artist’s sound sources hail from instruments, samples or software, it’s the ideas and their articulation that give the music meaning, not the machines.

The early work of John Lee, the Melbournian mastermind behind the rambling electronic guise of Mountains in the Sky, is a case in point. His first two recorded efforts – 2005 debut Celestial Son and 2006 mini-album Accipio – were attractive and lush rather than particularly progressive. Indeed, it was perhaps the accessibility of these pretty, sample-shrouded psyche palettes that won Lee acclaim rather than any real extension of the language.

In this context, Electron Suite – the brand new Mountains masterwork – may well be Lee’s career-defining piece. From the opening volley of pulsing, psychedelically-minded sketches (the wondrous harp embellishments and driving grooves of ‘Synaptic Cleft’ and arcing synth wig-out of ‘Soundsistors’ for two), this record resounds with compositional vitality and vision. Over 11 cuts, Lee and his band of collaborators – in-house drummer Stuart MacFarlane, ex-Sodastream bass and saw extraordinaire Pete Cohen, Qua’s Cornel Wilczek and others – visit terrains as disparate as synthed-up prog and Kraut, orchestral pop and IDM-inflected psychedelia.

But it’s the underlying vision, not the reference points and evocations, which defines Electron Suite. It plays out as one continuous landscape, a tapestry of driving rhythm, ornate instrumentation, layered analogue and sample-splashed colour offering different hues and punctuations.

Lee seems set on deconstruction here. There’s no melody, motif or rhythmic structure that hasn’t been turned inside out, dismantled and stuck back together. The beauteous, euphoric swirl of ‘Mooglab’ and the flourishing melodics of ‘Spin Theory’, plus the swooping orchestrations of ‘Electrolyte’ and eerie dynamics of ‘Pons’ offer some of the most striking moments.

Wilczek (who mixed the record) leaves a real mark. There’s a kind of asymmetrical dynamism, a willingness to break with conventional structure and flow; textures and patterns clash and coalesce in full view.

Lee is dabbling in true feeling and impulse here and the results are far more expansive and captivating than the previous efforts. While the record points to countless recognisable genres and eras, it is beholden to none. Electron Suite resonates via its own unique syntax.

Dan Rule


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