North Atlantic Drift: Departures, Vol. 1
Polar Seas Recordings

Equipped as they are with guitars, synths, and field recordings on their fifth North Atlantic Drift full-length, Toronto duo Brad Deschamps and Mike Abercrombie could generate a high-volume assault if they do wished to do so. But as their genre of choice is ambient-drone soundscaping, they prefer to keep things at a generally becalmed level, at least insofar as Departures Vol. 1 might be seen as representative of the project's sound. North Atlantic Drift came into being in 2011 when the two decided to catalyze their shared affection for artists such as Brian Eno and Stars of the Lid into their own productions, the first collection of which appeared a year later under the title Canvas. Issued on CD in an edition of fifty copies and presented in an attractive cardstock booklet, the new material's presentation is enhanced by some lovely abstract renderings by Laura Abercrombie; ten pieces appear on the physical release, with two live tracks included as bonuses in the digital version.

Throughout Departures, Vol. 1, Deschamps and Abercrombie sprinkle their slow, atmospheric expressions with nature-based field recordings, a move that gives the musical dimension a real-world connection and sense of place. Though North Atlantic Drift is hardly a Stars of the Lid clone, the music created by Deschamps and Abercrombie undeniably shares certain qualities with the material produced by Brian McBride and Adam Wiltzie in their project. Pitched at an understated hum, North Atlantic Drift's elegant, misty settings breathe softly; the music exudes a peaceful quality and, advancing with calm deliberation, is enveloped in a liberal array of textures. During “Part-time Romantic,” for example, the tremolo shudder of an electric guitar emerges ever so delicately out of a slow-motion mass of static and whistling synth tones, every element carefully balanced as it's fused into the whole. At twelve minutes, the longest piece, “Older, Not Wiser,” echoes the long-form character of many a Stars of the Lid piece, even if Deschamps and Abercrombie write their North Atlantic Drift signature firmly upon the material. In this case, long, shimmering trails stretch majestically across limitless skies, and tones murmur at high and low pitches as they elegantly overlap.

Departing from the overall soothing tone of the recording, “March to the Capital” allows a little bit of darkness to seep into the set; the foreboding presentation grows noticeably noisier, too, when guitars are heard snarling as part of the sound design. The difference between “March to the Capital” and the album's other tracks isn't so dramatic that the gesture feels anomalous; what is does do, however, is emphasize the dynamic range available to be explored by Deschamps and Abercrombie under the North Atlantic Drift name.

April 2017