Album Reviews

Mountaineers – Messy Century

(Mute) UK release date: 29 September 2003

Mountaineers - Messy Century Ripen, the first single on Mute from Mountaineers, whetted the appetite with its mixture of strange but somehow wonderful sounds. Now debut album Messy Century develops the theme.

Mountaineers are frontman and vocalist Alex Germains, electronic music graduate Ceri James and Czech-born drummer Tomas Kelar. Together they produce a sound that, while not instantly memorable in the way of – for example – Coldplay‘s first album, is distinctly intriguing. Ultra-modern electronica and dissonance overlay vocals that hark back to the 1970s, and rhythms that constantly surprise.

Lyrics tend to be abstract and Alex Germains husky voice is nothing special – but then that applies to so many vocalists and never seems to get in the way of success.

There’s a hint of early Pink Floyd in at least two tracks – not the overall sound, but a passing reference. In Belgique Limb, a slightly sinister mix of disembodied voices and echoes, something about the rhythms suggest Arnold Layne. Backgrounds is a sprawling track building from a growling intro, gradually adding synths, voices, percussion and horn to construct an atmospheric sound collage. When the main vocals kick in it’s almost an anti-climax – but the refrain would fit in happily on Dark Side Of The Moon.

The 13 tracks are a mixture of (relatively) straightforward ballads and experimental forays into sound play. Of the former, Want To Write You is the most fun – upbeat with great bloopy electronica warbling in the background and nice, simple thumping guitars. Gruppen is simply a gorgeous ballad; It’s Solid a charming end-of-love song – “It’s over / we’re really through / but it’s not true / my shoulder is always here / and yours is too”. It has an almost acoustic feel, with light off-key synths and a lush reprise.

I Gotta Sing begins with a deceptively simple construction of rising phrases and a catchy chorus, until it reaches the fractured central section when the simplicity fragments into flying shards of sound. Sewing uses heavily distorted vocals and disjointed chunks of percussion throughout, and All My Life, one of a number of standout tracks, offers the clearest vocal line in an anthem for living, before, true to form, breaking into playful sound chunks. Apart From This combines vocoder, a thumping backbeat and ethereal synth warblings to addictive effect.

This album may not be an instant attention grabber but I suspect it’s going to be a real grower. Certainly the most interesting debut I’ve heard in a good while, and you get the distinct feeling these boys are only just scratching the surface of their ingenuity.

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