One of the great things about When Mountains Speak is that, like the music they make, the band’s form and format have no precise form. On this latest album, there is a mixture of solo tracks, on which main main Steven breaks out keyboards and bass guitar to complement his guitar odysseys, plus tracks that see Jim Gary and/or Ben Sands adding bass and drums, respectively.
The music is uncategorisable, sitting somewhere between avant-garde improvisation, free-form jazz, spiritual soundtracking and a search for something beyond music itself. And, as challenging as this might seem, it is a beguiling prospect that often does away with recognisable structures to explore where the music wants to naturally go when it isn’t tethered or being second-guessed.
And so, the music found here is as wild as it is wonderful, as accessible as it is focused. Tracks such as Oscillation feel more like the results of experiments in the physics lab than the sound studio, but it is the middle ground between such places that When Mountains Speak calls its playground. Wasabi Wrinkles feels more songlike by virtue of a wandering yet more easily followed bass line. However, even that is relative as the other sonics ebb and flow in mysterious ways. Anyone trying to dance to this (though you should all give it a go, really experience total freedom of movement) might find themselves putting a hip out of joint.
Switchable Face is a hypnotic ambient groove, spacious and unique, fragile to the point of fractured but sumptuous and significant nonetheless. The title track, which opens the record, is a meditation on otherness. Other ways of making music. Other places to explore. Other mindsets. Take your pick but a soundtrack to alternate ways of looking at the world. But then all of their music springs off from such an attitude to some degree.
Music is what you make it, and if that is the case (it is, it is), why make the same thing over and over again? Why make the thing that already exists? Why reinvent the wheel? I’m not saying that When Mountains Speak will ever be a household name, something that I’m sure they accept and are glad about. But it is through making music that opens others’ minds and ushers in new attitudes and ways of looking at the creative process that things really evolve. Isaac Newton famously said that he managed to see further by standing on the shoulders of giants. One day we might look back and see artists such as When Mountains Speak as the giants that enabled music to really break some significant and restrictive barriers. In fact, I’m sure of it.