The first solo album by Koen Holtkamp of Mountains peaks in two spots. First, at about the direct median of the 14-minute “Sky Flowers” when you realize that you’ve become fully cocooned in the dusk-like shimmering and shuffling of textural acoustic drones, which match brilliantly with the track’s strange patchwork of untreated field recordings (playground sounds, yardwork, rustling against the microphone).
The second height is odd man out “Night Swimmer”, which has the distinction of being Field Rituals’s only vocal track. Holtkamp colors Scott Mou’s voice like Robert A.A. Lowe does with his own in Lichens, more as instrumentation than crooning. It’s a somber, pulsating piece that sounds like a muted Japan instrumental by way of Animal Collective (fittingly enough, Mou moonlights as a member of Panda Bear’s Jane project).
The field recordings alluded to in the album title arise like a foley artist’s closet’s worth of sounds that usually only mildly scratch the surface of the melody. The songs of Field Rituals are like pieces of a film soundtrack stripped of dialogue but left with scoring cues, atmospheric sounds, and sound effects. On “You Mean the World to Me”, a behemoth spacecraft lifts of inside a haunted airport terminal before arresting choral strands arrive to mark the experience. The warped and warbly magnetic tape effects of the brooding ambient “Bee Change” sound like an inversion of the melodicism of Ensemble’s similarly composed “Proposal 5”.
Overall, the album is rich in warm sounds, but Holtkamp can often get so stuck on an overtone that it detracts attention from the wonderful microscopic changes found in his electroacoustic rumblings. Examples of this include the persistent tremolo on “Bear Bell” and “Haus Unde Spirale Im Regen” which starts as a rigid shell of sound and works very gradually to unwind itself. Despite this, Field Rituals is a moving and at time gorgeous collection of noises that rewards deep listening with extra-sensorial bliss.