It’s intriguing to consider that Anna Mayberry started out as one of the vocalists in sludge-punk band HSY, because her experimental electronic folk collaboration as Anamai alongside fellow Toronto resident David Psutka (aka Egyptrixx) couldn’t be any more different. Two years on from their debut album ‘Sallows’, Anamai describe this second album on Psutka’s own Halocline Trance label ‘What Mountain’ as “personal truths on a backdrop of 3D sound”, and it’s certainly an apt framing of the nine tracks collected here. While the focus throughout remains on Mayberry’s alternately pretty and barbed folk-inflected vocals, it’s Psutka’s electronic trickery that’s equally the star here, with his production and treatments often disorienting the listener as much as they add depth.
Crucially, it’s the subtlety of Psutka’s touch that often leads to some of the most spectacular moments here. Indeed, he’s often content to simply work with Mayberry’s vocals and the subtle guitar elements that accompany them, teasing echoes and nuances out of them with digital effects until they sound like new instruments themselves. Instrumental intro track ‘The Choss’ sets the scene as slow blurred out melodic loops trail through a gauzy backdrop of fog-like ambience and sparse percussive tones echo through space, the sound of an electric guitar being plugged in and the resultant amplifier hum giving way to more sinister scraping textures.
When Mayberry’s gentle vocals enter the stage on ‘Crossing’ against an ebbing oceanic drift of chiming guitar chords and spectral layered backing harmonies (indeed, they almost feel like they’re folding in upon themselves at points), Psutka’s background ripples and droning bass harmonics make things feel as though the entire track was recorded at the bottom of the ocean, the warm elements undercut by a claustrophobic sense of looming pressure. Elsewhere, ‘Air To Blood’ sees Mayberry’s melancholic lyrics (“Discarding your touch, it’s something I’ve done”) adding a dark, vaguely obsessive undertone to the delayed-out howls of guitar feedback, sparsely pulsing synth sequences and foggy ambience that act as a vast backdrop for the multitracked backing harmonies that trail like velvet through the mix.
If it’s emblematic of the sense of creeping unease that lays beneath much of this album, ‘Some State’ sees things entering slightly warmer waters as slow guitar strokes and distant humming drones trail beneath Mayberry’s almost wide-eyed intertwining harmonies, the occasional rippling digital effect or percussive reverberation punctuating the languid sense of space. While it occasionally comes across as more pleasant than truly engaging at points, ‘What Mountain’ sees Mayberry and Psutka continuing to craft a hybrid between folk and ambient / IDM that feels distinctly different.