Tunng front-man Mike Lindsay’s debut solo effort (the act and album both named for the mountains surrounding his studio in Reykjavik) is a curious beast. It’s not entirely dissimilar to Tunng, which prompts the question: why bother? It’s Lindsay’s chance to experiment, to break away from the restraints of his day job and cut loose (maybe kick off his Sunday shoes). Instead, he’s stuck with what he’s good at and painted the surroundings and events that have moved him; the complacent satisfaction and security in his own abilities are what (mostly) stop Lindsay’s work here from becoming a long and pointless slog.
Opener ‘Cheek Mountain’ is warm, twinkly, and good, if not completely mind-blowing or special, a theme that lazily applies itself to the album as a whole. It’s all twee, tedious whimsicality, right down to the story of the album’s inception (it involves a trip to Iceland and love and pink skies and probably some glitter or something). Occasionally, the sound is inspired and wondrous; occasionally, it’s Zooey Deschanel levels of irritating cutesiness. Lindsay was inspired by Iceland’s natural landscapes and one can’t help but feel there has to be more at its heart than what Cheek Mountain Thief are projecting on certain tracks here.
Hope is not entirely lost. The record momentarily finds its way after a stilted opening. ‘Strain’ is a dark, pre-feudal chant; the soundtrack to a communal forest gathering (though what you make of that will depend on what you make of people who frequent forest gatherings). ‘Attack’ is the album’s resounding highlight, a sombre, yet beautifully uplifting odyssey that owes a lot to the best bits of Modest Mouse and Grizzly Bear. The wonderful noises colouring the background of the tracks that come before ‘Attack’ are finally brought to the front and given a stamping, soaring prominence. The harder edges and darker recesses of the album are the moments that provide the true bite. It’s a shame, then, that everything falls back several steps with the track that follows. ‘Nothing’ is a vaguely nauseating, plinky-plonky slice of ambience, punctuated with a giggling girl, the sound of an iPhone camera shutter and the inescapable feeling that this is exactly what the twats from the match.com adverts would be performing if they had access to a couple of violins and a Macbook.
The vocals – mostly male voices trilling in unison – are occasionally frustrating, as bursts of fantastic, heartfelt choruses leap-frog the faint, pleasantly dull murmurs that stream across the verses. ‘Showdown’, an entirely forgettable track for the most part, suddenly comes to life when demented, Icelandic shrieks stab at the lining and shape the foundations into something different. Lindsay is assured in what he does – there’s conviction and care in his work, but it’s not enough to be moving, not enough to provoke anything more enthusiastic than a resounding, ‘nice’.