It's been over five years since we last heard from Melissa Agate aka Sanso-Xtro on her record for Type, "Sentimentalist." In those five years quite a bit has happened. Agate's relocated to her native Australia and the move has treated her well. Fountain Fountain Joyous Mountain takes a lot of the ideas from her first record and dials them in, pushing everything to the next level. This collection of songs is a quiet force, blissfully confident and expertly assembled. Sanso's soundworld is fully immersive environment.
On the opener, "Fountain Fountain," we get a glimpse of everything to come. Slow-moving synthesizer sequences stay in constant motion as the piece slowly builds. Accenting bells and electronics skitter across the aural landscape, everything teasing like it will stop completely before picking back up with even more steam than before. There's this carefully controlled chaos at work that is immediately hypnotizing. Agate sings simple passages toward the end, welcoming listeners into this new world as her voice floats above the fray.
It becomes obvious as the album progresses that Agate is, at heart, a drummer. The staccato rhythms and percussive embellishments bring the album to life. These rapid-fire beats in conjunction with precise, half-speed instrumentation work in perfect harmony. Reminiscent of Blackdance-era Schulze at times, there's an intoxicating dizzyness that is effortlessly present in "The Origin of Birds" and "Wood Owl Wings a Rush Rush." Agate even throws a few nods to free jazz with "Goodnight Thylacine." Her skill as a drummer is matched by her ability as a songwriter, knowing when to push it over the top and when to dial it back. Album closer, "Exit: Joyous Mountain," sounds like a lost Alan Lomax gem with its and melodica/harmonica duet and delicate singing.
"Hello Night Crow" is the literal and figurative center of the album, though. It starts with a ringing synth loop that gives nothing away until the electronic chord changes emerge a minute in. Again it's about the slow-build that raises the tension and anticipation before melting into the sky. It's like when you rub your eyes and get bombarded by geometric shapes swirling on a sea of blackness. The song envelopes you and you're instantly transported until you open your eyes. "You wouldn't recognize that its not there anymore," Agate sings over the bubbling waves of synths. It is beautiful and crushing.
Melissa Agate's second album proves what a force she is to be reckoned with. Everything feels in the right place; the details matter. Fountain Fountain Joyous Mountain is a three-dimensional record. You can hear it. You can see it. But most importantly, you can certainly feel it.
Fountain Fountain Joyous Mountain was mastered by Lawrence English. Vinyl cut at D+M in Berlin Artwork and design by Fergal Brennan.