Under Review

Loscil

Sea Island

Kranky

author
Josh Gabert-Doyon

Sea Island is the latest release by Scott Morgan (better known as Loscil), which explores spaces in and around Vancouver through ambient noise-making. Previous releases such as First Narrows, Sketches from New Brighton, and Strathcona Variations, had already established Morgan as a Vancouver ambient mainstay.

On Sea Island, Morganbends the limits of how we think about space in a traditional sense — through the traces of history, implied material realities, and a blending of organic and inorganic textures — until neither of the two are certain or stable.

Morgan utilizes instrumentation (violin, piano, vibraphone) and some vocal work for this album, which has become more common on ambient releases over the past few years. What really differentiates Loscil from his peers is his ability to synthesize these elements with electronics and field recordings in order to create poly-rhythmic pieces with conceptual weight.

The album is subtle and hard to pin down. Sonar pings reccur throughout, revisiting a deep-sea/nautical theme Morgan has played with in the past. Morgan uses the formless and the fluid as embodied in a clunky metal tube (a submarine), employing a navigational system used by deep-sea animals.

A sizeable chunk of the literal Sea Island became an airport in 1931, thrusting the island into the gears of industrial modernity. Sea Island has also been the location of a warplane factory — “Catalina 1943″ referring to the Catalina seaplane — commercial aviation industry, several skytrain stations, and a major sewage treatment plant on the Iona Peninsula, all landmarks of a distinctly peripheral space.

“Iona,” an eight-minute drony metallic ode to that peninsula (also the site of the album’s cover artwork), is full of whirrs and hisses that sound remarkably like airplane propellers, or sea winds. “Sturgeon Bank” is notably more beat-driven, becoming almost danceable at points; it is also the name of a marshy sector opposite Sea Island, a wildlife management area which is slowly eroding into the Fraser River.

Most of the tracks, however, are deeply cryptic. They are studies of the liminal space between the organic and the inorganic. “Sea Island Murders” is the album’s pearl nestled in an oyster of drone. Whether a clever newspaper tag line or a rusting urban legend, there’s nothing to indicate if the murders actually took place; instead they become part of the landscape (and soundscape) as it’s experienced by listeners — story told as place, place told as story.