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Johan Agebjörn, The Mountain Lake

April 10, 2011

It may be that I’ve gotten to a point where I have certain expectations when I see that I’ve received a disc from the folks at Spotted Peccary–expectations set especially by recent releases from Darshan Ambient, Helpling & Jenkins, and Deborah Martin. So it was a pleasantly interesting surprise to start up Johan Agebjörn’s The Mountain Lake and hear not the sort of cinematic New Age music I thought I’d get but rather a whoosh of electronic wind, a vocoder’d voice sample singing to me and an infectious club-music beat. My first thought was, “Count me in.” The Mountain Lake is more in line with the melodic electronica coming out of the Netherlands than its labelmates, trimmed around the edges with Agebjörn’s appreciation of 80s electronic music. It’s worth noting that said appreciation is always added lightly and well–it never goes overboard into cheesy nostalgia.(Although “The Stones Are Blasted” admittedly comes close.)  You may catch wind of familiar synthpop memes floating around in the sound, but it’s more charm than distraction. What makes the disc stand out is Agebjörn’s skilled hand at tempering his dance-music beats with floaty washes. It’s especially effective in the 10-minute “Zero Gravitation,” where rain-spatter pulses fill in for rhythm–just sparse, small hits that I hesitate to call “glitch” because they seem like more. They’re balanced perfectly with a quiet, minimal wash that easily drifts along. Both sides of the equation carry equal weight; Agebjörn never pushes one over the other, and winds the whole thing down to a beautiful, calm close. “Swimming the Blue Lagoon” is one of the highlights here. It makes excellent use of a chopped vocal sample and hanging stretches where Agebjörn pares the moment back to a minimum of sound and movement to create a space that feels loaded with expectation. The track also happens to be toe-tappingly upbeat. “The Chameleon” also takes advantage of that sort of hesitant, minimal feel blended with tempo. Agebjörn knows how to make you wait to hear the next sound, and he knows how to make you want to wait for it. Most of The Mountain Lake is energetic without having to resort to kicking it up to the frantic pace that many glitch-style musicians do. Agebjörn finds a perfect spot between hit-the-floor danceable grooves and downtempo chill, and it’s a comfortable spot that I’ve spent a lot of time in lately. (For a dose of absolute laid-back chill, head straight for the slow and sexy “Love Ray,” which is so perfectly loungey that it ought to have a cover charge.)

As much as I have enjoyed The Mountain Lake, I have to admit that the two “Underworld Mumble” pieces–super-short burbles of odd, random sound–feel like mistakes to me. They break up the flow of the disc with their abstractness. I’m sure that to the composer they have some sort of thematic necessity, but quite honestly, I first listened to The Mountain Lake in my car and when the first “Mumble” came on, I thought there was something wrong with my CD player. They’re only 15 and 13 seconds respectively, but for this listener that’s 28 wasted seconds in an otherwise rock-solid hour of good electronic music.

The Mountain Lake is quite worth checking out. It’s an interesting departure for Spotted Peccary, and very welcome.

Available from Spotted Peccary.

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