Being successful making ambient music is tricky. There are no real catchy hooks, there isn’t much – if anything – to sing along to, and it’s often difficult to differentiate artists by sound alone. Vancouver-based multi-instrumental electronic soundscape extraordinaire Scott Morgan, having gone by the project name Loscil since the late ‘90s, brings a minimalist sound with Sea Island. There’s a focus on intricate synth loops paired with heavy echoes and reverb, which flirts with the underrepresented darker side of the ambient genre.
There’s truly a wide range of emotions on this album. Almost-title track and highlight ‘Sea Island Murders’ presents a brooding, pensive synthetic atmosphere that seems to want to swallow everything that listens to it until groaning swells of reverb force their way through, causing a complete instrumental breakdown five minutes in. Their place is taken by beautifully-worked piano arpeggios that seem to call for a reflection – the softer texture of the track is more indicative of the rest of the album’s work. ‘Bleeding Ink’ has a similar message but instead toys with a pained, breathy female vocal sample that cuts across the backing instrumentation and fuses the real with the synthetic, only to be drowned out by some intense buzzing and more reverb. The music here is questioning the true nature of ambience: is it possible to just relax when all of this haphazard chaos has gone before? Morgan has reinstated the need for thought in a genre that often dwindles into thoughtlessness.
It’s a shame that the rest of the album doesn’t deliver the same potent feelings, and instead dwindles during the second half. Sea Islands has not enough small ideas elongated to fill too many tracks, five of which fail to distinguish themselves and are, sadly, forgettable. What is good is very good, though: Loscil lives up to its name in this very oscillatory release.