Chicago label Hausu Mountain turns hermetic-sounding eccentrics into a community

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Hausu Mountain artists Maxwell Allison (Mukqs), Natalie Chami (TALsounds), and Doug Kaplan (MrDougDoug), who all play together in Good Willsmith - COURTESY OF HAUSU MOUNTAIN
  • Courtesy of Hausu Mountain
  • Hausu Mountain artists Maxwell Allison (Mukqs), Natalie Chami (TALsounds), and Doug Kaplan (MrDougDoug), who all play together in Good Willsmith

The output of local label Hausu Mountain ranges as widely as the psychedelic folk of Eartheater's RIP Chrysalis (2015) and the assaultive techno of Davey Harms's Cables (2016). The common thread linking most of its releases, though, is an aesthetic of studied avant-garde hermeticism: everyone on Hausu Mountain seems to be sliding down their own tunnel to their navel. Not only does it sound like Eartheater has never met Davey Harms, but you'd also suspect that neither of them has ever met anyone. The acts on the Hausu Mountain roster each seem to live in their own gloriously insular towers.

The three albums the label releases on Friday, October 14, communicate something that's startling in this context: the people behind the music are acquainted with one another. Hausu Mountain is pitching them as a "Family Batch," and two are solo cassettes from the label's founders, Maxwell Allison (Mukqs) and Doug Kaplan (MrDougDoug). The third is by Natalie Chami (TALsounds), who plays with Allison and Kaplan in Good Willsmith.


Admittedly, the music doesn't necessarily scream, "These artists all are in the same band, or in the same corner of the solar system." Good Willsmith has a psychedelic jam-fest vibe, but little of that bleeds into the individual members' solo work. Kaplan's SOS Forks AI REM is a collage of video-game sounds and beats that's reminiscent of chiptune. The first 30-odd tracks all run less than two minutes, so you feel like you're rushing from level to level in some frantic Atari nightmare. It concludes with a few longer, mellower ambient cuts, as if the swarming space invaders suddenly and blissfully attained enlightenment.
Chami's Lifter + Lighter has a made-inside-a-laptop feel as well, but she composes her material live. "My practice lately has been to push through and record every time I ever play music at home—and make it often," she says. She then reviews all this material to find the takes and songs she wants. "The last part of my process, and honestly the hardest part, is having to organize and sift through all of my recording sessions and strategize how to curate an album," she says. "I use a gazillion charts and notes, and sometimes I ask for people's input. But usually it doesn't matter, because I intuitively and methodically have it sorted out in my head already."

The result is a lovely, staggering mess, with songs built out of wayward vocal swoops clipped short and beats that rev up only to sputter out. "Hair" revolves around a church-organ-like motif interrupted by dissonant keyboard figures and vocals that fray into wisps of devotional uncertainty: "Sometimes, I don't even want to know," Chami sings. If FKA Twigs's sound were even more fragmented and synthetic, it might end up something like this—R&B for dreamy neurotic droids.
Allison's Walkthrough is maybe my favorite of the releases. It has an improvisatory groove you don't often get from electronic composition—I was reminded a bit of Squarepusher, in his mellower moods. The live feel is no doubt related to the circumstances of its creation: Allison says he made it in a single 40-minute take using "a Korg ElecTribe EMX-1 drum machine/synth, a multitrack loop pedal, and a four-track cassette tape deck playing back additional layers of synth and samples." The fourth track, titled with Japanese characters, is as unapologetically hooky as a mellower Vangelis theme, and even the muted squeaks and feedback add to the sweetness of the tune. "I was aiming to amplify what I perceive to be the beauty and simple elegance of video-game music through a sound palette closer to modern experimental electronics," Allison says. "I also wanted to make electronic music that could be considered sentimental and fun, without taking myself too seriously." Unlike Kaplan's album, Walkthrough studiously avoids chiptune's frantic pace. Instead it comes across as a cosmic music box, surprisingly delicate and melodic.
Allison and Kaplan both started with vintage video-game music as an inspiration but ended up in different corners of the arcade—which seems like a nice encapsulation of the Hausu Mountain aesthetic, as widely divergent artists spin cocoons on the same branch. "I would say that my listening habits are 40 percent HausMo releases we're working on or new music by friends, 40 percent Grateful Dead and Phish, and 20 percent 'other,'" Kaplan says. "I'm lucky to have so many friends and peers that continually up the ante with their music. Being surrounded by such talented people forces me to constantly reevaluate my artistic values."

"Natalie and Doug are my two biggest influences," Allison says, "not only because we've played together so much, but because I find their individual practices each inspiring to witness and take part in." The Family Batch feels like a mutual-admiration love fest, not least because it isn't especially stylistically coordinated or coherent. Hausu Mountain finds community in everyone listening to everyone else doing their own weird and isolated things.

Correction: This post has been edited to more accurately describe Natalie Chami's composition process.

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