These are gorgeous, atmospheric soundscapes, recorded in the interstices of Úlfur Hansson’s stint as Jonsi’s touring bassist. A few burble and pop with something like Jonsi’s electro exuberance, but most move slowly, weightlessly and without much of a grounding beat. White Mountain begins in the sound of birdcall (that’s miasmic opener “Evoke Ewok”) and proceeds as a sort of slow motion nature walk, soundtracked in turn by haunting synth overtones, stray guitar resonances and a chamber group’s piping woodwinds. Hansson made use of what he could find while travelling, building a fragile beat out of a cousin’s rock-skipping in Iceland and hooking up with Mountain Man’s Alexandra Sausser-Monning for the ghostly vocals in “So Very Strange.” The birds caught mid-squawk in “Evoke Ewok” were taped in Chicago. All very catch as catch can, this sound gathering, yet it coheres in a remarkably tranquil, remarkably lovely whole.
Much of the album proceeds on its own time, drifting and hovering like low-lying fog, yet a few tracks have more visible structure, particularly the dream-glitched “Black Shore” with its shimmery chimes and scratching, shuffling beat. “Heaven in a Wildfire” and “Knoll of Jupiter” have different sorts of spines, their interweaving reed instruments layered over swooning violins, all organic, more chamber orchestra than chamber pop, but full of flashing movement. Both sound like the National’s more baroque and orchestra intervals (“Geese of Beverly Road” for instance). The title track glows like Joanna Newsom’s Ys, a medieval folk song wrapped in unearthly spaceship lights.
White Mountain evolves very slowly, without much adrenaline, and certainly without an “a ha, this is brilliant” focal point. Yet it is quite lovely, a serene and magical oasis, set apart from the daily to’s and fro’s. Who’d have looked for such a place on Jonsi’s tour bus?
DOWNLOAD: “Heaven in a Wildfire” “So Very Strange”