Under the name Loscil, Scott Morgan has spent the last ten years exploring the borderlands between ambient and ambient techno, never quite falling all the way into one or the other. Over the course of his first four full-lengths, he consistently found a place where melody, sonic motion, and glitchy, barely-there rhythms coexisted, bouncing and rotating around each other in patterns reminiscent of dub, but with a bit more forward thrust. His 2002 album, Submers, was a conceptually perfect study of deep, sub-aquatic environments. On his two most recent albums Morgan invited instrumentalists to play with him and used their improvisations as extra sound sources for his productions. While 2004’s First Narrows shined with clarity and relative exuberance, 2006’s Plume used this expanded palette to push textures into the foreground, resulting in some sonic surprises and a more emotionally ambivalent terrain. After a four year release hiatus, Morgan is back with Loscil’s fifth album, the somber Endless Falls, his most austere and least cluttered album yet.
Morgan yet again uses water as a thematic inspiration, this time ruminating on the rainfall that is a constant fixture of his hometown of Vancouver. Field recordings of rain begin and end the album, and he processes other field recordings into sound sources for the drones and noises which he uses to compose the tracks on Endless Falls. It’s no surprise that this sound recontextualization strategy lands him in the same heady territory as Wolfgang Voigt’s orchestra-sampled GAS project and Stephan Mathieu’s Radioland, a work reprocessing short-wave radio transmissions. But rather than one esthetic plumbed to its depths, here Morgan brings a variety of approaches, making for a wide-ranging album in a state of constant, if measured, development.
Lead and title track “Endless Falls” is the most overtly instrumental composition, welcoming moody strings to the central merry-go-round drone, calling to mind the recent work of Stars of the Lid. “Estaurine” grows a bed of shimmering static around repetitive piano figures and pieces of melody floating around just below the surface. “Shallow Water Blackout” and “Fern and Robin” are both serenely slow, featuring soft held tones playing underneath crackly interference. “Dub for Cascadia”, with its stew of pinging, hammering, and echoing elements is the only throwback to Loscil’s past. “Lake Orchard” is the album’s biggest triumph, allowing a drone and sustained strings to separate into an icy little circular melody countered with a slowly surging violin. “Showers of Ink” pulses as a low end buzz and chimes sound off in the background, building tension that flows into final track “The Making of Grief Point”, a collaboration featuring spoken word by Dan Bejar of Destroyer fame. It is a winning experiment, all ominous noises and piano notes riding atop a pulsing nighttime rhythm that sounds like a frightened and paranoid cricket. Bejar reigns in most of his prankster tendencies and delivers a smooth and cerebral soliloquy documenting a harrowing creative process, contrasting the motivations and reflections of an artist contemplating song-based vs. ambient music, among some other more typically impenetrable phrases. It ties together the somber mood of all of the music that preceded it and brings a feel of finality often missing from softly instrumental and minimalistic albums.
If not quite hermetically sealed, these tracks all feel enclosed, like watching an endless rainfall from your window sill. Like Submers then, Endless Falls successfully couples music with an idea. Not only is this great rainy day music for someone stuck inside while the Earth gets soaked, but it also works as a suggestive companion to endless falls of more mental or moral dimensions, whether it be an attitude of growing negativity, a fall from grace, or a full scale disintegration of reality. With the fifth Loscil album, Scott Morgan once again proves not only that he has a phenomenal grasp of interesting sounds, but also the intelligence and artistry to meld them together in a profoundly meaningful way.