Review of Mount Carmel [12k1090]

Indy Week (US)

We live in a lucky time for ambient music, especially the kind with ties to the American South. Michael Grigoni, a Duke doctoral candidate in religious studies who performs under the moniker M. Grig, falls loosely into this category, although his latest release evokes landscapes outside of Durham, farther westward, toward California, where Grigoni was raised.

Previously, M. Grig released three meditative EPs, Field Notes, Still Lifes, and Millpond Way. On Mount Carmel, which was released last month on the experimental label 12k, the dobro, lap steel guitar, acoustic guitar, and pedal steel guitar are all at play, but each instrument recedes in service of the whole, a technique he describes as a kind of instrumental “erasure.”

On past albums, Grigoni’s prowess as a guitar player shone through as more of a focal point; on Mount Carmel, the instrumentation is carefully layered with—and deconstructed by—field recordings and electronics. The resulting sound has an airy, astral quality that seems to evoke the spaciousness of years passing slowly in an open landscape.

Grigoni was raised near the hills of Los Peñasquitos; the album was created with that particularly dry, hilly landscape in mind. On opening track “Call,” drones sweep through gentle acoustics with a spooky, arid effect, like hot wind blowing across grass, while the heavily-textured “B” suspends full-bodied instrumentation in moments of tense silence. In “Form,” the guitar work spackles with meandering, crackling atmospherics.

At different points, I was brought back to a specific memory of riding in a car in Montana as a child, transfixed by a gigantic black storm cloud miles down the highway, which the car never seemed quite able to reach. In this way, Mount Caramel’s asynchronous electronics achieve one of the best things that ambient music can do, which is to pull you, taffy-like, away from the center of something and hold you at a deliberative, transformational distance.

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