The Sight Below – It All Falls Apart

The Sight Below - It All Falls Apart

When The Sight Below showed up on the scene a few years ago with a kick drum and hazy guitar atmospherics, it was refreshing to hear someone take the ambient textures + 4/4 kick drum formula, approach it head on, and do something different with it. Debut album Glider delivered some highs, elicited some shrugs, and left the listener questioning the role of the drum in what sounded like an otherwise austere ambient work. Why was it mixed so far up front? Was it a hiding place for underdeveloped compositions? Does it carry symbolic functions beyond its purely esthetic ones? Sophomore full-length It All Falls Apart actually let’s up on the 4/4 kick quite a bit and starts pushing this project beyond its origins in fantastic new directions even as, in places, it frustratingly reprises some of the more questionable qualities of Glider.

The questionability lies in the relationship between motion and stillness in The Sight Below’s music, a relationship that remains ambivalent and confusing in spots. First two tracks “Shimmer” and “Fervent” sound cosmic and primordial, with drones layered over each other up to here, and surprisingly they feature no percussion accompaniment. It’s all very pretty in a pensive, emotionally-drained way. Unfortunately, it’s also very tedious as the tracks cover little ground timbre-wise, sustaining the peak of one big swell while doing little more than slightly repositioning themselves in the same location, with “Fervent” being the main offender, but dragging down the better “Shimmer” in the process. Frustratingly, as the tracks wind down and the layers peel away, some interesting sounds and textures pop out of the woodwork. One of this type of track to lead the album off would have been great, but two straight really bog things down, especially as the album proceeds to give way to a bunch of much stronger tracks that exhibit more development and compositional verve.

“Through the Gaps in the Land” provides a glimpse of The Sight Below at the height of its power delivering a track which embraces both stillness and a forward motion and gets them working together via composition instead of setting them directly at odds. Starting with a set of drones that take turns singing, decaying, and penetrating, the track provides ample movement in the tension between those elements before the kick drum even drops almost two minutes in. The drum works as a compliment instead of as a counterpoint like it did on most of Glider, even dropping out briefly twice to let the track’s momentum dissipate for stark breaks before picking back up again. This track is tightly constructed, balancing both stillness and motion in the service of a unique esthetic. “Burn Me Out From the Inside” follows in a similarly well-controlled vein, allowing layers of orchestral sounds to slowly introduce themselves over the length of the track, instead of simply making a big pile and letting it run its course. This could easily be a lost GAS track, and the kick drum that plays throughout gets a lift first from a bouncy synth pad which proceeds on a parallel path, and then is put in relief by a quickly repeating bowed sound as the track concludes. “It All Falls Apart” continues the winning streak with a calm, stately, Basinski-esque two-note loop which sounds like it slowly passes through a number of undercurrents as it sinks to the bottom of the ocean.

Cover song “New Dawn Fades” brings the album to its highlight, at once far removed from both the Joy Division original and from The Sight Below’s normally non-melodic methodology, while maintaining the spirit of both. Jesy Fortino of Tiny Vipers provides vocals which come through with all the desperation of Ian Curtis while sounding like they’re delivered from the throat of a distressed little eunuch. The other songs on the album suffer a little bit relative to the emotional strength and vividness of this track, which makes the price of admission for this album worth it on its merits alone. This will knock you on your ass and is fertile territory for future endeavors.

Final track “Stagger” comes back with some light breaking through the clouds, and brings with it a surprise percussion track which deviates from the usual metronomic 4/4. This is as close as The Sight Below has come to ambient techno, with the slowly skittering knocks and ticks finally gaining supremacy over the slowly developing dronescape over the course of 13+ minutes. It provides a slight release to the emotional tension built over the course of the previous four tracks and takes the album out on a note of clarity.

In addition to the bold new directions, It All Falls Apart also improves on some of the sticking points from Glider. Most importantly, the kick drum is mixed lower and integrated more fully into the compositions instead of feeling somewhat crudely placed over the top of an already existing ambient composition. It’s too bad that this album gets off to such a mediocre start, because as it progresses, It All Falls Apart proves to be a heady mix of refinements and surprises that show The Sight Below not only realizing its strengths, but redrawing the boundaries of drone, laptop electronic, and ambient techno.

The Sight Below

Ghostly International