loscil: Sketches from New Brighton

At the risk of sounding arrogant, I came to Scott Morgan's sixth loscil full-length wondering whether I'd encounter anything I'd not heard already, given my familiarity with pretty much all of his previous output. However, the captivating manner by which soft washes and tones spread themselves over an insistently rippling percussive rhythm in the album's opening setting “Khanahmoot” quickly laid any concerns in that regard to rest. Still, it's not so much that Sketches from New Brighton offers a loscil style different from what's been documented before so much as it captures that always meticulous sound in a state of artful refinement and realization that's truly impressive. Morgan has drawn inspiration in the past from his Vancouver home base, and he does so once again, this time titling the album after a tiny ocean-side park near the Vancouver Port Authority. Impressionistic in the extreme, Morgan's nine so-called sketches powerfully evoke the landscape, even for those who've never visited it.

One thing that is perhaps more pronounced on Sketches from New Brighton compared to past loscil recordings is the invigorating rhythmic dimension that infuses a number of pieces. Pulsation is typically evident in a loscil piece, but parts of “Second Narrows” verge on techno, albeit of an idiosyncratic and abstract type one might expect from Morgan. “Coyote” likewise could pass for a loscil take on minimal techno, even if the vaporous textures and twilight tones make it as much an exercise in scene-painting as anything else, while “Collision of the Pacific Gatherer” is animated by a percolating micro-house pulse that wouldn't sound out of place on a Raster-Noton release.

It also could be argued that calling the pieces sketches is a misnomer, given how fully realized they are as sound paintings. In tracks that range from five to eight minutes in length, Morgan integrates patterns and accents into the material, incrementally filling in the details until an entire scene is depicted. What results can be beautifully understated and melancholy (the at-times Eno-like moodscape “Fifth Anchor Span” a case in point) as well as powerfully evocative. As an example of the latter, hear how “Hastings Sunrise” builds an undercurrent of mystery as it batters brooding electric piano melodies with steely swaths of electronic noise flourishes. Morgan even flirts with literal reference during “Prairie Trains” in having long tones resonate against a textural base of slow-motion swirls, much like a lonely train whistle sounding across the plains of Canada's western provinces.

October 2012