Album Reviews

Loscil – Sea Island

(Kranky) UK release date: 17 November 2014

Loscil - Sea Island More here than on any other album in his discography, Scott Morgan’s Sea Island – his newest album under the Loscil project – occupies that curious space in ambient music also occupied by Harold Budd, Steve Roach and Sunn O))). It’s a dissociative space, where the act of listening is encompassing, and one is as close to ego death as sobriety permits.

In its barest form, Sea Island is an hour-plus electronic ambient work. Synth washes, delicate piano tunings, and ethereal vocals are all over the mix. Unlike Morgan’s previous album Sketches Of New Brighton, Sea Island conspicuously lacks a preponderance of field recordings; this work is much more straightforward ambient washes.

Morgan’s focus on sheer magnitude of sound is what sets Sea Island apart from this year’s comparatively restrained releases by Kyle Bobby Dunn and Steve Reich. It his, perhaps, his loudest album yet: nigh every track is produced to the absolute maximum. Now this would almost always be labeled a fault in reviews, but after 15 years of music production, Morgan is no neophyte, and he demonstrates a masterful ability at using volume as a way of instilling serenity and intense calm upon the listener.

Mid-album track Iona is an impressive example. A soft, yet cavernous, drone overlays the entire eight-and-a-half minute runtime, which is punctuated by shimmering oscillations. At the middle of the song, a distorted phase effect that recalls nighttime ocean wind blows over the mix, and a moderate tempo synthetic keyboard plays the closest analogue to a lead that Sea Island betrays. Again: it is very, very loud, but not misguided.

Morgan uses volume to create a semblance of organism within an entirely synthetic release. Each tiny crack or wavering in the mix is audible to even cursory listens, and it captures the milieu of a passive and unforgivable sea. Autechre knows this well: vinyl pressings of Tri Repetae included the phrase “complete with surface noise” on the sleeve, and Sea Island is certainly an album that will benefit from a wax pressing.

Speaking of Autechre, Sea Island has a similar vibe of slight dissonance that betrays the aforementioned dissociation. Sea Island Murders – easily the best track on the island – has the encroaching horror of VLetrmx21 on Booth & Brown’s 1995 Garbage release, which is partially due to Seattle pianist Kelly Wyse‘s input on Morgan’s track. That being said, Sea Island is not all creeps and jeebs, but it does lend credence and understanding to Captain Nemo’s cryptic declaration that “perfume is the soul of the flower, and sea-flowers have no soul”.

For a casual listener, Sea Island – like most of Morgan’s work as Loscil – may interest as good background music. That’s not to doubt the producer, it’s just true: this album contains six minutes less than the maximum run time that a compact disc may hold, and for the most part it’s the same delicate synthetic washes and spaced-out vibes with some variance. For work, study or sleep, Sea Island may entertain as a pleasant addition to space.

For a serious listener, Sea Island may engross. It may not be as captivating as Popol Vuh or Biosphere, but it does have that curious charm that comes from mixing slight discomfort with peace. Sea Island is fit for those rainy days on the English countryside or coast where time dissipates. It’s beautiful in its own manner, and thankfully avoids the one-sound pitfall into which ambient music may fall. It is recommended for the dissociative spirit.

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Loscil – Clara
Loscil – Sea Island