Bitcrush: In Distance

Loess: Wind and Water

Interesting that the graphic approaches for these n5MD releases appear contrary to their musical contents: Loess's uses a high-contrast, almost chiaroscuro style for Wind and Water's cover while Bitcrush's In Distance displays a grey image so faint it disappears when viewed at a short distance. Sonically, however, Loess's hour-long collection tends towards the middle grey areas whereas Bitcrush's embraces contrasting extremes to a larger degree.

Clay Emerson and Ian Pullman's choice of Loess as moniker is apt, as the term refers to a natural sedimentary phenomenon, specifically that loose, fine-grained soil distributed by wind settles into gently rolling slope formations. In addition, the natural dimension of the duo's sound has been enhanced by a change of locale. Originally from Philadelphia, the two currently reside in the Pine Barrens of Southern New Jersey, making Wind and Water seem an aural snapshot of their peaceful surroundings. Throughout the album's relaxed ambient settings, delicate tones and siren voices rise and fall like elongated breath tones, spurred on by gently clicking patterns that more often than not convey a subtle tribal character. The album isn't wholly laid-back, however. The atypically uptempo “Lomond” snaps to attention, with melodica accents darting in and around flute-like synth figures and percussive clatter; “Sonde” likewise belies the album's restrained persona with a marvelous dubwise flow.

Electronic elements are used in service of an ethereal and bucolic vision throughout Wind and Water. Naturally, Boards of Canada comes to mind when speaking in such terms and, yes, pieces like “Creshiem” could conceivably be a BOC production. Still, though textured too, Loess's tactile music is quieter by comparison and—“Talus” the exception—eschews the hazy, psychedelic quality commonly attributed to BOC. Frankly, when so many electronic artists routinely bludgeon with industrial intensity, Loess's understated approach is refreshing.

In his Bitcrush music, one-time Gridlock member Mike Cadoo concentrates on sculpting a deeply emotive brand of electronic music. Cadoo presents In Distance as a travelogue with each composition flowing easefully into the next. Though the pieces typically last between 8 to 11 minutes, they move through contrasting episodes and hence don't feel long. Panoramic in scope and live in feel, a given piece may put drums at the forefront first and then follow it with a lulling ambient section, which will then give way to Cadoo's introspective singing or perhaps an aggressive guitar episode.

Following a delicate introduction of rippling ambient currents, “Post” incrementally builds in intensity, eventually transforming itself into a post-rock-shoegaze amalgam with Cadoo's whispered singing (“I can no longer follow / I can no longer do this anyway”) enhancing the song's impact. An elegant piano intro then eases the listener into “Falling Inward” before beats move the piece into buoyant Schnauss territory, but its most affecting moment arrives with the peaceful stillness Cadoo nurtures during the song's middle. Desert guitars peal and synths cascade over snapping beat patterns in “Colder,” the tune crowned by a shoegaze howl, while a lovely vocal weave boosts “Every Ghost Has Its Spectre.” If anything, the album grows more heartfelt and paradisiacal with each song. The 11-minute “And Triage” opens in ambient mode before marshalling its considerable forces into a melancholic epic of guitar haze. Surprisingly, the piece then decompresses into quieter passages before an abrupt slam propels the tune towards a pealing climax. Here and elsewhere, Bitcrush's In Distance impresses with the quality of its craft but is most distinguished by its material's depth of feeling.

June 2006