The Mountaineers
Messy Century
Mute
2003
A



having enjoyed the Mountaineers’ self-titled EP last spring, I bought the import of this album when it came out in the UK, knowing it would be out in the States in less than two months. By then, fall would have given out to fat dark skies and the wet first snowfalls of November, and that’s an unholy burden to place on any album, ain’t it? Well, I should have waited; this one could carry that weight. With Messy Century, the Mountaineers have cut and pasted their way through one of the best albums of the year. They have stumbled through the postmodern junkyard, loaded together all of the synthetic throbs, hums, and moans they could find and patchworked them into one gorgeous mess.

Each song seems to crumble and resurrect itself several times over, like multiple music-boxes cutting on and off in the same empty space. The closest reference points are the Beta Band and Orange Can, but you can also glimpse Manitoba and Four Tet in the percussion’s propulsive mechanical stomp. The album’s best moments are those when you stumble headfirst into one of a song’s multiple transitional stages, and fortunately these dominate the landscape. Make no mistake; this is not the garage-sale display of Mull Historical Society. These tracks are shaved thin of such senseless meandering and concussion-causing restarts. The wanderings work within the logic and whimsy of each song and they are that much more thrilling for them. The indecipherability and lack of cohesive structure to the lyrics help to propel the surrealism of the music. Were you to select a chapter of Delillo, splice its contents William Burroughs-fashion into a pile on the floor, and randomly select fragments of paper from this tattered mess, you might get a sense of the wondrous disorientation at work here. It need not make any sense; don’t confuse yourself with reason. If you crave full disclosure from the album’s lyrics, you’re missing out on the Tootsie Roll center with this one. Messy Century is a symphony to distraction.

With that said, I can’t dissect the tracks on this one. There is a sequence and a track list, but these are not songs that need to stand alone. They shift seamlessly from passage to passage and back again, sliding through folk, glitchtronica, and pastoral psychedelics and end up a twitching amalgam of none. “I Gotta Sing” bounces forth with acoustic guitar, piano, and quiet strings until the drums lockdown into a floating groove and your head begins to bob before you can help it. And while I could survive for a week on this song alone, there are many more treasures here. “Want to Write You” pulses with an electronic bassline that’s like the muffled bass heard through your floorboards and slow, shy guitar beneath its mesmerizing chorus. There is sublimation at work. “UK Theatre” begins with its acoustic guitar and Ob-La-Di-Ob-La-Da bassline before simmering into a psychedelic strut, while “Bom Bom” and “Apart from This” feature stomping hip-hop beats and synthetic tones, both a compelling ambrosia for the dance-frugal hipster (the Rapture and the Liars ain’t got the market cornered). The final song, the aptly-titled “Silent Dues”, is the simplest track on the album, content to glide on its acoustic guitar and the Northern Lights frost of its melody, a midnight hymn fit for mossy forests that leaves me numb.

I was wrong. This is not chopped-up Delillo, but he might understand the album’s esoteric, come-as-you-are progression. Either way, it beats the hell out of the howl of his supermarkets.
Reviewed by: Derek Miller
Reviewed on: 2003-11-11
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