Although I was moved to write this by the two recent Mount Maxwell (the project of Vancouver multi-instrumentalist Jamie Tolagson) vinyl releases, on the Hotham Sound (Canada), Feeding Tube (US) and Cardinal Fuzz (UK/ Europe); I just wanted to say up front that the whole Mount Maxwell back catalogue is worth checking out, see his bandcamp page here. Here you’ll find the two albums which pre-date the releases under discussion here, namely ‘Blue Highways Vol. 1 & 2’ which are “Mount Maxwell’s electronic tribute to the original BC [British Columbia] Ferries fleet and Gulf Island communities of the 1970’s continues, with [two] instalments of oceanic synths, phased string machines, and aquatic field recordings.”
These are amazing releases in and of themselves and struck me as being ‘sea-going’ versions of such a Craven Faults, with Mount Maxwell drawing on similar themes of personals journeys and the composers relationship with their surroundings. As such they both contain that numinal quality that invites you to detach yourself and follow them on their sonic adventures…
As far as I can see ‘Only Children’ was the next set of recordings to come out after ‘Blue Highways’… and certainly seems to represent something of an evolving approach with the use of vocal samples and acoustic instruments… which in places gives the release a really folky ritualistic feel amidst the soaring synths and acoustic guitar that make up this collection. It is an album that feels at the same time quite intimate, and yet can also be hugely panoramic as Tolagson explores the relationship between himself and his environs…
Nowhere is this more evident than in the title track which is glacially beautiful in the way that the guitar and synths interact culminating in a lovely crisp drone at the end…
Other tracks are far more busy, such as ‘Weird Places’ which is like being in some sort of bustling market place where you find yourself trying to find a quiet corner to escape… before it is achieved for you… a very strange two minutes which makes the tracks around it feel even more fulfilling and bucolic…
I like my music to be challenging yet veering towards the introverted… and this is what I largely get here… it’s more than ambient, because many of the tracks feel like they are accompanying you… but they do not become over-bearing and intrusive… and they are sufficiently fragmentary to keep you interested… and I love how a melody emerges every so often to transport you on to the next place.
The ‘Blue Highways’ albums came out in 2016 and 2018 respectively, while ‘Only Children’ was released a year later… all initially as cassettes on Tolagson’s own Hotham Sound label… all long sold out; as is 2021 release ‘The People’s Forest’ which continues the Mount Maxwell journey, to my ears, further inland into (as the title suggests) the undergrowth of the woodland… again through a heady mix of synths and acoustic sounds we find ourselves in a beautiful ‘other-world’ where you can create your own topography and structures…
…here you can veer from the simple guitar musings of ‘Fallen Mountain’, to the Boards of Canada incantation of ‘Rings of Rushes’… continuing with Mount Maxwell’s journey in broadening out his sound while in no way lessening its depth and impact.
This is one of those musical progressions where you feel that each step is, in and of itself, worthy of not just listening to but sitting with and being transported by… but (and probably one point leads on from the other here) where each release feels somehow transitional… each has it’s own movement away from the previous one, but suggests something else to come… as the press release says: “It’s got a skyward gaze and nostalgia for futures never realized”… but once realised you begin to see how they all kinda fit into a fragmented non-linear progression.
This is definitely some of the best new (to me) music that I have heard this year… over the four albums that I have mentioned here we see a quirkiness that never becomes boring or repetitive… a narrative which is there but allows you to insert your own story… a sound which is both experimental and accessible… but most of all an atmosphere which really just invites you in to Tolagson/ Mount Maxwell’s own world… one that is both welcoming and flexible… one where you can just zone out and be…
‘Only Children’ and ‘The People’s Forest’ are available now on Hotham Sound (Canada), Feeding Tube (US) and Cardinal Fuzz (UK/ Europe)
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