Lost Harbours - Into the Failing Light - Albums - Reviews - Soundblab

Lost Harbours - Into the Failing Light

by David Bruggink Rating:6 Release Date:2014-04-01

Lost Harbours is an uncommonly descriptive name for a band, but soon after listening to the latest by this self-described experimental folk-duo from Southend-on-Sea, you'll find that it fits quite well. The dissonant violin scrapes, malicious drones, and unplaceable atmospheric sounds of 11-minute opener 'Winter Shall Reign' immediately establish the album's pervasive cinematic quality, which conjures ashen landscapes, abandoned farmhouses, and of course, the terror or solace that can be found in the sea's unpredictable waves.

There's a strong ambient aspect to Into the Failing Light, but it feels more improvised than the term usually connotes, blending shuddering strings and unsettling, incantation-like singing which immerse the listener in dread. Texturally, these songs bring to mind the drifting, free-form string compositions of Richard Skelton, although Lost Harbours explore a more diverse set of moods. 

'…and they fade away' is an impenetrable four-minute cloud of shifting feedback and hypnotic mumbling, and tones down the terror of 'Winter Shall Reign' only slightly. Meanwhile, highlight 'Portal' features some of the album's prettiest singing paired with a shining guitar part reminiscent of a slowed-down James Blackshaw, and it might appeal to folks who enjoyed the ethereal beauty of Julianna Barwick's Nepenthe. After about five minutes, Lost Harbours crank up the distortion and the once-bright guitar becomes deep and acerbic, threatening to engulf the whole sound, not unlike the crumbling guitar tones of Fennesz's Endless Summer. 'Whispers in the Night' is a surprisingly optimistic number which, again, shows the influence of American primitive guitar, and builds to some gorgeous moments as guitar, drone, and vocals are overlaid.

Sometimes, though, the duo seem to rely too heavily on texture alone, as on album closer 'The Undulating Sea'. Admittedly, it is an apt title for a track which seems to be more comprised of the sea than of actual instruments, and it finishes the album on a fittingly ambiguous note. A bigger problem arises when the music's solemn mood is interrupted by a lyric that seems to be trying too hard to sustain the eeriness. For example, on 'Winter Shall Reign', a deep, reverberating voice intones, "Lanterns in the dark… Lights out. Lanterns on the shore… Lock all the doors," creating a strange contrast between the faux-scariness of the words and the genuinely unsettling music.  

This is a difficult album to place a score on, as I found some of its tracks, particularly the ones centered on guitar, to be lovely, while others seemed to take themselves a bit too seriously or provide only an interesting texture to grasp onto. However, if you're more at home with the genre and like your ambient music to instill creeping dread, you might find the latter parts to be the album's best.

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