Saturday, 15 September 2012

Loscil - Sketches From New Brighton

 
Anyone outside the listening circle of ambient music may think immediately of such figureheads like Brian Eno...and stop there. It's not because it may be the only real commercial name people can think of when trying to find associations with the genre - having a series-linked set of four albums each starting with the word definitely helps in being the most-known name f'sure - but in all honesty, it's hard to pin-point a real one-size-fits-all definition for a genre not exactly surfing the airwaves of today's local radio and consumerist media promotions. Those who are willing to venture beyond the advertised will find a vast gathering of young and established artists that many would recommend to the surge of newcomers to this genre. Loscil, Scott Morgan's ambient ventures - in contrast to his drum work for fellow Canadian outfit Destroyer - is one of these such names. It's been roughly twelve years since a self-released album of ambient music caught the eye and ears of Kranky and much like the albums that have proceeded it, 2012's 'Sketches From New Brighton' suggests then, Morgan's thriving sense of discovery and reinvention is far from retired.

The visibility and the striking appearance of beats makes itself known on opener 'Khanahmoot'. Echoing rummages of bells & metallic forms, and crunches of percussion make up this distant yet awakening approach to Morgan's sound this time round. Loscil's focus on rhythm is clearly apparent, but it takes nothing away from his knack for the atmospheric layering that comes with it. Progressing more towards the hollowness of the colliding and collision of sounds, the priority is still left with the rhythm and it carries the track through to the end. 'Hastings Special' comes as a surprise then, because it quickly withdraws from this ideology on such up-tempo emphasis on synths - the track's slow-crawling drone and placement on its heavy piano keys make it a much more warmer and accessible listen than the former. Looking then at these first couple of tracks, it's a regular occurrence to expect then that the opening to an album can come as a sort of swaying to and fro between ideas. But what makes this an even more important - and thus, more crucial - area in Loscil's sound is how the album as a whole will end up shaped and, as a result, working to appease the listener.

'Second Narrows' results in a much stronger and effective lead into the album's next track - the distant withdrawal of instruments now left, as if by nature, to evolve into this repeated loop of tone and collision with one another. It's a much better execution and a perfect opportunity to expand on Loscil's development through this record - the overtaking of the track's gritty pitch against the backdrop of warm synths and circulatory notation alike. But admittedly - though aware that it would be unfair to criticize an ambient work on its lack of development and urge to discover itself and express what it finds - there's something about this track that doesn't necessarily strike me as having the same level of encompassing context that has often been a pinnacle element in Loscil's discography.  Whether it be the minimal honesty of 'Plume'; the emotive delicacy of 'Endless Falls'; even the arctic withdrawal of his previous release 'Coast / Range / Arc', what drove those albums was the undying connectivity between the track-listings and how Morgan could use his chosen context to tie his sounds together.

While the chain isn't exactly broken, there's a feeling here on this record is missing a link here and there.It's not a major problem on the album, as the conciliation provides us with, in result, Morgan's most mature and professional arrangement of music to date. 'Coyote' is a brooding and tense unveiling of piano keys and thawing synths - adding to the reemergence of rhythm in Loscil's sound that here, is leaning more and more into the realm of melody and movement. 'Collision Of The Pacific Gather' continues this momentum, adding to the subterranean crawl and squirms of synthesizers. But beyond the materialism and the texture of these sounds, the balance in pitch between the warmth of the layering and the coolness in the exterior surroundings creates a hidden tension that neither clashes nor deters from the enjoyment in the listen.

So as we get ever closer to the final moments on this album, the warmth and enclosing shape of this record feels ever further - sounds blurring to the point where the borders constantly expand and grow ever distant - while still maintaining that surreality of closure and intimacy, all in equal unison. 'Prairie Trains' could be seen as the album's sepia decline in temperature then, or instead more an unraveling of honest involvement with the emotions and feelings spread across the music. The humble bobbling of beats and the dancing of tones around it give off so much of an unearthly whirl that it leaves the track almost withdrawing from the previous preset of grounded ambiance and Morgan's shifting diversity in where the demographic in his music lays. This is certainly Loscil's most emotionally engaging piece on this album, and once again, it's his preciseness in repetition and looping that adds the much needed humane intensity to his music.

But die-hard Loscil listeners will be quick to point out - and thus agree with me here - that this album certainly doesn't share the same bold but rewarding collectivist mentality shown on previous albums, as noted. Instead, 'Sketches From New Brighton' is more of an emphasis on production to the outside audience and a sort of modest reassurance of confidence for Morgan himself. And while this certainly provides us with the same intriguingly layered ambient he has become recognized and admired for both in and out of the genre's circle of listeners, it doesn't bear the same brunt for driving the record forth. Rather, the album feels more like in some metaphoric second gear - casually coasting along rather than aiming straight to its chosen context. Rather, the choice is half-decided upon, simmering between indecisiveness and intrigue in other areas. It doesn't constitute as a major fault, but it does hinder the record in its aim to be an altogether piece. But for the most part, there is plenty here to satisfy the ear and spool through, whether curiously in its component...or further, analytically or emotively.
~Jordan

7.4

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