Recording information: Manchester (2014); Mission (2014); Seattle (2014); Vancouver (2014).
Loscil's Scott Morgan operates at such a consistently high level that the cohesion between his albums makes them even more immersive. Sea Island feels like an evolution of the sounds and ideas he explored on his previous full-length, 2012's excellent Sketches from New Brighton, and the short-form releases that followed it, the piano-driven Intervalo and his split EP with the British ambient group Fieldhead. Morgan sets an introspective, dark, but not oppressive mood similar to that of Sketches with tracks like the misty "In Threes," and, as always, uses small shifts to achieve seismic results; the way "Holding Pattern" warms up its chilly, flute-like tones and electric piano is almost imperceptible from moment to moment. He explores fragmented melodies in similar fashion, shrinking them to sonar-like beeps on "Angle of Loll" and letting them flow on "Sturgeon Bank." Underscoring the connection Sea Island has to Morgan's recent work, the album features collaborations with Intervalo pianist Kelly Wyse and Fieldhead violinist Elaine Reynolds as well as returning vibraphonist Josh Lindstrom and keyboardist Jason Zumpano. Morgan's pieces allow them to shine as much as he does: album opener "Ahull" showcases Lindstrom's spiraling lines, which recall Cliff Martinez's haunting Solaris score; Reynolds' playing is subsumed into glowing tones on "Catalina 1943"; and Wyse's poignant performance on "En Masse" is a reminder of what made Intervalo so special. Another standout, "Bleeding Ink," uses Ashley Pitre's wordless vocals to add a unique intimacy as well as a respite from the album's more ominous moments. Elsewhere, Morgan employs the last vestiges of his dub techno roots to give Sea Island structure and momentum; "Sea Island Murders" begins with gasps of melody and a subtly pulsing beat that bottoms out midway through the song, like the conclusion of a chase; "Iona" takes the opposite tack, initially floating on bell-like tones before a windswept beat overtakes it. Techniques like these ensure that Sea Island's generous length offers a deep dive into Loscil's world that remains compelling from start to finish. ~ Heather Phares