As previous reviews will testify, When Mountains Speak doesn’t so much make music in the conventional sense but something that might perhaps be better titled sonic journeys or musical meditations or sound collages. Such terms might sound a bit arty and maybe even pretentious but anyone expecting to dive into this latest offering and find hooky riffs, pop perkiness, traditional verse-chorus structure and any of the usual mainstream mechanics will be sorely disappointed.
But it’s a case of “horses for courses,” as they say. If you need any of that tried and tested way of operating, there are more than enough artists to tick those boxes, but if you want meandering musical meditations, hypnotic grooves, exotic world sounds blended through understated and ambient electronica, music that comes from a very unique and adventurous place, then there is nowhere better to head than to a When Mountains Speak album.
And even within the beguiling musical world that you associate with this artist, there is still room for a few surprises. The main one for me comes on track two, Tread Softly, not only are there fantastic vocals that wander between jazz-soul chanson deliveries and voice as an instrument sound washes, but the chiming delicacy of the acoustic mandolin and the meandering pulses of the bass guitar offers us something new for a WMS album.
There are still the slow-burning instrumentals that have defined earlier works, but now there are also pieces that seem to head off down progressive-world music tangents. Esta Vida is a gorgeous and groovesome Latin-infused folk feast and Dance Among Trees is a strange electro-pagan shamanic rite, but when you want something more meditative, moodier, more mesmerising, it isn’t hard to find.
Modal Encounters runs around an Indian world music sound palette, pushing boundaries and exploring traditions, evocative Tabla beats mixing and merging with digital patterns whilst distant and distorted sounds seem to encroach menacingly. Our Actual Life is strange and alien, bruised and brooding, Gimme Hope blends the sweet vocals of earlier with the synthetic soundscapes we are more used to and An Offering ends with a heady mix of eastern flavours and growling experimentation.
When Mountains Speak is all about offering something new and unexpected, so the inclusion of sweeter, more song-orientated vocals into the mix is great to hear. There are still the strange musical platforms, the long, slow-burning soundscapes, the sense of adventure but now there are even more sonic building blocks to help push the boundaries and reach for new heights. And that, after all, is the whole point of making such unique and singular music in the first place. Don’t you think?