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Loscil - Endless Falls

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Artist: Loscil

Album: Endless Falls

Label: Kranky

Review date: Mar. 1, 2010

Starting well before Music for Airports, ambient music liked to get fresh with place. Erik Satie aspired to "furniture music," Eno tried to allay fears of fiery airplane death with loops of living-room piano, and those who followed have tried to capture a similar sense of the domestic and particular. What distinguishes ambient music’s terroir (apologies) from yr garden-variety "Stooges sound like Detroit"-type insight is that these geographical characteristics are often the subject of a piece rather than the background. This kind of figure-ground inversion often shows up in the cover art—put the album art of loscil’s latest release, Endless Falls next to White Bird Release and it’s clear that these musicians don’t need to venture far from home to find inspiration. And, like a Magic Eye image for your ears, the listener may have to cross and re-focus their ears many times to get depth out of material that sounds submerged and retiring.

loscil’s (a.k.a. Scott Morgan, occasionally the drummer for Destroyer) middle run of albums — Submers (2002), First Narrows (2004) and Plume (2006) — found thematic coherence through submarines, a bridge and steam, respectively. Endless Falls completes this water cycle by opening and closing on the sound of rain, recorded in Morgan’s backyard. Stylistically, like Fennesz’s Black Sea, Endless Falls follows a more accessible, melodic album by pulling back on the qualities that almost made for an indie crossover. This album won’t strike the Plume fan as a refinement of that album’s warmer sound. While Endless Falls and its predecessor created an organic sound by including improvised contributions from a small ensemble, the string and piano contributions here stand with classical seriousness. The Rhodes piano bubbles that helped Plume ascend are absent here. Instead, chamber instruments assist in the bottomless fall, leading to tracks that are weightier, with longer builds and a sense of isolation.

This doesn’t mean that the rainy-day reflectiveness of the album is tinged with doom or mortality, but this record certainly comes off more austere than its predecessor. Even as all the most basic elements of loscil’s sound are present — the gently hovering looped drones, glitchy sonar rhythms and occasional, carefully placed trad instrument — Morgan seems to be withdrawing, moving even more toward subtlety and carefully planned surprises. This may or may not leave much room for reaching out to the listener, which is often besides the point in ambient music. Listening can feel like Morgan is trying to close a thematic loop or is responding to personal motivations that may be lost on or irrelevant to the listener. However, these are the stakes of ambient, after all — music that requires space to just exist, oblivious to meaning, but with the potential to stand up to a different kind of active listening than that which more active-sounding music offers.

Although the sound here is less warm than Plume, the experience of the album is more overwhelming at points. On "Lake Orchard," Morgan takes a glitch-free pulse and gradually adds distant, panning strings and muted horns, in a kind of homage to Gas. When the bass modulates, the song’s emotional stasis gradually transforms into an epic and soothing large-scale melody. It’s a demonstration, loscil playing to his strengths and gradually refining the parameters he laid out for himself when he started making this music in 2001. It’s no great leap forward. On the other hand, the last track, "The Making of Grief Point," is.

The album’s success doesn’t hinge on this moment — the track, featuring spoken word from Destroyer’s Dan Bejar, simply stands apart. What’s unique about it, beyond the presence of words, and what distinguishes it from the rest of loscil’s music and even the contemporary ambient pack altogether is the way it dramatizes the ambivalence of making and listening to ambient. In music that foregrounds process so intensely, theory intervenes not only for the composer, but for the listener; pleasure emerges from these mediations. Bejar’s words make up a vivid, short-circuiting text that captures the potential and the bathos of minor music: in Bejar’s words, it’s "the trick of making something confounding and great and potentially horrible drawn up from air."

That listening to such easy music can be as fraught as creating it is more than enough insight to justify Endless Falls’ potential stagnation. And enough to prompt futile Googling for the imaginary album in question, Grief Point. loscil has made and continues to make that ambivalent thing. That he can address the problem honestly doesn’t exempt him from evolving, even though it remains unclear just what Endless Falls is that Grief Point isn’t, and vice versa.

By Brandon Bussolini

Other Reviews of Loscil


First Narrows


Sketches From New Brighton

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