After a magnificent 12" on A Room Forever, Mountains-member Koen Holtkamp is now presenting his debut proper. "Field Rituals" is a memoir of sorts, bearing testimony to places and people Holtkamp met. And yes, field recordings are definitely his most effective aides de memoir
The album starts on a lofty, Helios-style guitar in the album opener "Half Light" and moves deeper and deeper onto abstract territory from there. For all the abstract grandeur of its synthesizer arrangements, however, "Field Rituals" remains firmly rooted in the object world. This is due to the warm, organic environmental recordings Holtkamp uses, and to the album's gentle pace that never aspires to the dramatic urge which is characteristic of, say, Tim Hecker or Machinefabriek.
Let's not forget Holtkamp's use of objects as sound sources, though. He is credited in the liner notes as providing "acoustic 6 string guitar, acoustic 12 string guitar, harmonica, melodica, field recordings, voice, electronics, computer". Plus: "ice water, seeds, paper, metal bowl, and other objects". Being concrete and also at times – like in "You mean the world to me" with its table-setting-recordings – breathtakingly intimate, "Field Rituals" rarely tries to impose its diary quality or a narrative upon the listener. Rather, it creates atmospheric spaces that invite projection and exploration. And even when the "Night swimmer" somewhat predictably dips deep into a blackened stillness, Holtkamp's composition never sounds forced but makes sure that even underwater, there's room to breathe.
And yet, even after more than a dozen spins, I'm not entirely sold on this album. Sure, it's another must-have from the back-on-form Type label. But I'm not too fond of some of the more abstracts parts on here. While, for example, "Bear Bell" provides more than nine minutes of shimmering bliss, the penetrating harmonium drones of "Haus und Spirale im Regen" lead (almost) nowhere and are extended close to the 15 minute mark until they, sorry, are getting on my nerves. I know this is paradoxical but I don't know how else to phrase it: It's when it aspires to reach out the most that this album is at its most hermetic an impenetrable.
The limited vinyl version includes remixes by Lichens and Xela. 8/10 -- Jan-Arne Sohns (22 October, 2008)