Loscil - Sea Island - Albums - Reviews - Soundblab

Loscil - Sea Island

by David Bruggink Rating:4 Release Date:2014-11-20
As styles go, ambient music strikes me as one that’s particularly accessible to the amateur music producer: it doesn’t require prodigious dexterity on an instrument, or a gorgeous singing voice - you can merely churn out some billowing, ear-friendly textures that move at the speed of a giant walrus napping in the sun, and call it a day. It’s a blessing and curse, though, and thus one can easily find hundreds of ambient records which waft layers of nap-inducing synth-pads towards your ears but never really catch your attention.
 
This makes it a pleasure to find ambient music which manages to be truly interesting, whether by incorporating a wider palette of instruments and styles or by perfecting the standard formula of enveloping the listener in pure waves of elegant, flowing noise. 
 
Loscil’s Sea Island is the rare kind of ambient record that fails to be either aurally pleasing or texturally captivating. Permeated by gusts of feedback and soft keyboards wrapped in arctic reverb, the sounds of Sea Island serve mostly as reminders that these kinds of wintry textures have already been explored more successfully by artists such as Thomas Köner and Echospace. Atop these broad, gray strokes are also nondescript, mechanized bells, occasional wordless vocalizing, and touches of modern classical-inspired live instrumentation. 
 
It’s a formula with potential on paper, but its execution is meandering and lackluster at best, and occasionally I even found it physically upsetting to listen to - a surprising quality for an ambient album. Something about the monotonous, featureless tones which begin ‘Bleeding Ink’, mimicking a hearing test mixed with a skipping CD, combining with tuneless female vocals which represent the track’s textural point of interest, made this one of the most unpleasant songs I have heard in recent memory.
 
The record’s evocative track titles (‘Catalina 1943’, ‘Sturgeon Bank') seem to be a futile grasp at purpose, as the songs themselves fail to generate cinematic imagery, and are so sonically similar that they could just as well be untitled.
 
I understand that ambient albums are often meant to be experiences in which the listener is subsumed in mesmerizing layers of sound, and I have a great appreciation for certain artists who have made such albums. I enjoy getting lost in the criminally repetitive, droning melodies of William Basinki, as well as the stock-in-trade heavy kick of Wolfgang Voigt and the minimal piano of Jon Hopkins. But while Sea Island is a serviceable display of the sounds at work in current ambient releases, it lacks the spirit and the organic quality that makes the best ambient music so entrancing.

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