Review Summary: A song for all seasons
By way of introduction, Complete Mountain Almanac is a four-member collective whose genesis derives from the long-running friendship of Sweden-based singer-songwriter Rebekka Karijord and Italy-based poet Jessica Dessner. Once the pair conceived the idea of crafting a musical project together, Dessner’s musician brothers (Aaron and Bryce, both members of The National) also joined in to round out the group’s ranks.
While I generally do my best to avoid using the word “pretentious” in discussion of music, given it’s vastly overused, here’s my tacit acknowledgement that the word is not an unreasonable descriptor when discussing this group’s self-titled effort. Focused on a concept which attempts to fuse the universal and individual (specifically, the state of the planet amid the growing specter of climate change, alongside Jessica Dessner’s recent brush with breast cancer), this project is certainly ambitious. Add to that sweeping subject matter a twelve-song tracklist with each tune bearing the name of a month in the exact order of the calendar, and you’ve got yourself a self-consciously grandiose record which will likely either impress or crash and burn.
In this case, the artists deliver. Simply put, Complete Mountain Almanac
is a triumph of musical beauty. Perhaps best described as sonically halfway between the dreamy feel of Jenny Hval’s Classic Objects
and the airier side of Fleet Foxes’ Crack-Up
, with a strong infusion of classical influences, it’s not the most high-energy affair, but proves to be a less sleepy effort than might be expected based on those comparisons. It’s an album whose calling card is warmth and feeling, but also feels just aloof enough to make a bold statement.
Individual tracks here all have their distinguishing features, but together they flow smoothly as a cohesive whole. Indeed, the most obvious complaint which could be lobbed at this album is that, given the “one month per song” conventions, there’s not really a seasonal feel which can be derived from different segments within the album’s runtime. Personally, though, it doesn’t bother me, with the results becoming a satisfying journey, even if it’s one disconnected from the cycle of solstices and equinoxes. Karijord’s vocals throughout are arguably the most critical element, always beautiful and often near-mesmerizing - particularly in the almost-angelic “March” or the minimal “July”. The lyrics, when intelligible, are strong, but function equally easily as just another pristine instrument. This isn’t an album solely reliant on a gorgeous voice, though. The sonorous ending of “January” echoes Scandinavian dark folk, the flitting guitar of “February” is delightfully catchy, “October” shimmers hypnotically, and “November” provides the rhythmic feel of a traditional dance, among plenty of other variations to be found within these tasteful musical arrangements.
Even while basking in the glow which follows the album’s fadeout (Karijord’s emotive voice soaring over the delicate plucking of a few strings to conclude “December”), I can acknowledge that Complete Mountain Almanac
probably isn’t a release with the greatest possible appeal across a broad swath of listeners. For one thing, its chamber music/art pop/folk style is inherently mellow and rather reserved, not inclined towards a preponderance of moments which most people would describe as particularly “exciting”.Beyond that, this whole album, lyrically and otherwise, exudes vague and not-so-vague “hippie” vibes which will repel a certain type of music fan. Those caveats aside, though, this is a fantastic record, both sophisticated and personable, and one that I suspect will be well-loved by a niche audience. If the album’s description here intrigues you at all, Complete Mountain Almanac’s emergence is not to be missed.