Olivia Block
The Mountains Pass
Black Truffle
Black Truffle 117
Incl. VAT plus shipping / Orders from outside the EU are exempt from VAT
2The Hermit's Peak

Black Truffle releases »The Mountains Pass«, a major new work from Olivia Block. A key player in Chicago’s vibrant experimental music scene since the late 1990s, Block has developed an extensive body of work grounded in a personalised, at times emotive approach to the studio-based practices of the musique concrète tradition, while also encompassing improvisation, orchestral pieces, sound installations, and a sustained engagement with the piano.

On »The Mountains Pass«, recorded by Greg Norman at Steve Albini’s Electrical Audio and meticulously edited and constructed over the course of three years, Block pushes into new terrain, introducing her singing voice and drums played by Jon Mueller into flowing assemblages that move seamlessly from ruminative organ tones and fragmented piano airs to explosions of sizzling synths and thundering percussion. Like many of Block’s past works, which include, for example, a sculptural installation using the sound of oyster beds, »The Mountains Pass« draws inspiration from nature and the animal world. Time spent in a particular mountain range in Northern New Mexico informs this suite of pieces, whose lyrics and titles refer particularly to animal life in the area. Beginning with bursts of white noise and delicate synthetic pops and squeaks, opener »Northward’ very soon reveals the special direction the album will take, as lyrical piano lines are joined by Block’s fragile voice, singing words written from the perspective of »f2754,« an endangered Mexican gray wolf who wandered more than five hundred miles from Arizona to New Mexico in 2022. The fragment of song quickly breaks off, leaving us with a ghostly electronic hum. »The Hermit’s Peak« follows, one of two epic pieces at the album’s core. Beginning with chiming, almost harpsichord-like tones, it moves through episodes of spacious, ruminative piano, Jon Mueller’s sparkling cymbals, stuttering cut-up piano sounds, and a climax of keening organ and trumpet tones (performed by Thomas Madeja). Continuing the exploration of vintage keyboard and synth tones heard on Block’s »Innocent Passage in the Territorial Sea« (Room 40, 2021), the music sometimes suggests the great outer-limits works of 70s Italian prog figures like Franco Battiato or Arturo Stalteri in the languorous drift of synthesizer, organ, and piano tones and the meticulous yet organic flow of its construction. »Violet-Green« opens the second side with another epic journey, its lyrical content concerning ‘a mysterious bird die-off and a forest fire’. Block’s crystalline voice and rich piano chords at times call up the restrained chamber songs of Janet Sherbourne, but fragmented and threaded through passages of woozy pitch-bent keyboards, hypnotic distant thuds, tinkling bells, and searing distorted synth tones. On »f2754,« the freedom of the roaming wolf surges through dense layers of rapid keyboard attacks and long organ tones over a propulsive drum performance straight out of Animal Magnetism-era Arnold Dreyblatt. This distinctive sound world is then reencountered in a darkened mirror image in the uneasy, metallic shimmer of the closing »Ungulates’« named in reference to a heard of elk roaming through the mountains. Like Battiato’s »Clic« or Gastr del Sol’s »Upgrade & Afterlife«, »The Mountains Pass« inhabits the underexplored terrain where the beauty of song coexists with a radical formal openness, illuminating the deep musicality and warmth that have been present in Block’s work all along.