A Mountain Of One
ike all good incubating Next Big Things, UK’s A Mountain of One has been making music composed of known quantities while hinting at something transcendent. Their stabs at overly serious progressive rock and blues-based psychedelia might bear, on first listen, the hallmarks of “Classic Rock” or AOR—not helped by vocalist Zeb Jameson’s unapologetic Chris Isaak croon. But there’s an aching depth to their insistent wail/drone/groove, transitioning the American psychedelic idiom circa the Doors through the noodlings of Pink Floyd. The band started as a loose experiment between British techno veterans Mo Morris and Leo Elstob, and Jameson, who plays keys off-and-on for the Pretenders (!!). With a couple highly sought-after EPs in the can and buzz building all year, this full-length couldn’t have come at a better time.
But don’t be disappointed when you see that there’s not much new material. As the name Collected Works might imply, the band has compiled the varied pleasures of their niche EPs rather than recording much new stuff. For an early adopter of A Mountain of One’s Balearic beach prog, solemn hymns like “Warping of the Clock” and “Freefall” are old-hat. But any B+ marketing major could tell you that cramming all the good stuff on one product is a better sales proposition, and any passable Econ major could tell you that it’s cheaper and easier than tracking down the original limited-release EPs themselves. The lone new track, the jaunty “Brown Piano,” (which is also available as a 12”) only serves to re-enforce the group’s affinity for ghostly acid rock.
Listeners new to A Mountain of One might point out their similarity to Studio, the Swedish duo whose Yearbook 1 and West Coast has won fans across the spectrum of rock, electronic, and world music. These two groups are joining a larger community of musicians becoming comfortable with idly referencing the sunny dispositions of New Wave and Reggae. It’s as if UB40 and Level 42 were somehow elevated to the same pantheon as that of the fashionable art-rock of Can and Kate Bush. But the twin spectres of Holger Czukay and Manuel Göttsching loom here too, guiding the motorik drum programming throughout and Ashra-esque guitar licks on cuts like “People Without Love” and “Innocent Line.”
Whereas Studio carries themselves with an unconcerned air, A Mountain of One is quintessentially human. The tracks on Collected Works are fleshed-out songs with full vocals, even if those vocals are sometimes nothing more than groove mantras. The tender balladry of “Freefall” takes the blathering philosophical indeterminism of mid-period Floyd (as well as the corny vocal effects) and places it in the dark, conflicted world of Mark Hollis and Talk Talk. This is where Jameson most palatably recalls the surf angst of Chris Isaak, but he’s a Chris Isaak backed by synthesizer swells, ghostly coos, desert-rock guitar licks, and the inexplicable ebbs and flows of the ocean and storms. For Studio, life may be a beach; for two UK techno producers and a Pretenders keyboardist, it might just be one step on the road to transcendence.