North Atlantic Drift – Departures, Vol. 2.

The next duo of releases from esteemed Greek label Sound in Silence has just been released. One of which is Canadian duo North Atlantic Drift. Released in an edition of 150 copies, with a special edition of 50 copies could training a bonus track called “Vast”. North Atlantic Drift is one of those names that have been familiar for some time, but this is the first time I have been able to really check them out.

North Atlantic Drift is the ambient/post-rock duo of Mike Abercrombie (aka Transits Of Mercury) and Brad Deschamps (aka Anthéne), based in Toronto, Canada. Since their formation in 2011 they have released five albums, four EPs and a split album with Northumbria, while they are also running Polar Seas Recordings label.
Departures, Vol. 2″ is in line with last year’s “Departures, Vol. 1.”, showcasing North Atlantic Drift’s atmospheric side of minimal ambient and presenting eight new impressive tracks in a running time of about 50 minutes. Moving away from the melodic post-rock orientation of their earlier releases, North Atlantic Drift have stripped away most of the percussive elements, glockenspiel and more prominent guitars and have achieved a captivating sound of subtle textures, overlapping tones and slowly evolving soundscapes. Built around washes of sustained and reverberant electric guitars, warm and comforting synths and glacial drones.

“Empty” as the above description states this is a more Ambient piece than anything in the post rock canon. Opening with what sounds like a mix of urban and more exotic field recordings the music washes in with long drones that glide over each other in almost random patterns, changing direction and having various tonal qualities. Some are warm drones while others have a cold chill to them. Melody is a central focus to the track that has the finest static woven intonation it giving it a slight stormy feel. For a visual cue I envisage a largely empty beach with a stormy grey sky and a building wind with reeds billowing about and a distant dog chasing a ball. There is a calmness to the music that evokes a relaxed listen, but it also has the slightest edge to it to maintain that it never veers into something too sweet.

“Glow” oscillating sounds with a slight shrill howl work in tandem with one being more in the focus. Darker rumbling drones that have a quality of a bass like choir sound come through the music in a rhythmic pattern. Synths and guitars change the texture of the piece with a distorted grittier edge which flips any expectations for the album that may have been cultivated by the opener. Ambient music tends to work best when it is not propelled by beats and while this track is beat less, it does have the Synths/Guitar pieces to act on a rhythmic fashion as much as they do as an ambient tone. In a way you feel like you are in the eye of the storm. There is a certain darkness and the track is musically dense, but it never tips over into outright dark ambient.

“Carousel” field recordings of flowing water and percussive sounds are paired with cut up buzzing, shimmering sounds and a very subtle drone that round through them. By now you are very much aware at how adept the duo ate at created wind-swept music. Each track has shared an element, but yet none of the tracks have been obviously the same. You get the feeling of music that has been buried and later dug up and the result you are hearing is this organic decomposition of the original work. They have a way to balance sounds that while not crystal clear, have their own version of blurred clarity that evokes such things as distant memories or stormy conditions – which could be environmental or personal.

“Good Intentions I” brings us into a light soaked territory with just enough grittiness to it. Largely focusing on higher drones that inter lock with one being linear and other feeling like its looped. Field recordings which sound like someone walking through an area with loose material, are covered with choral drones which show us of a Stars of the Lid comparison that shines through. The music feels like it’s on a mission to open up on a grand scale and this is best noted in the second half of the track.

“Formation” starting of with what sounds like a manipulated recording of high-powered water or manipulated gong, rustling, flickering loops and long melancholic drones. The drones have this ability to slowly unwind and stretch out really testing out their weight and depth. The guitar parts that accompany these drones are nicely constructed and are used to complement, rather than provide a another focal point. The track would appear to be any exercise in glacial music and one of not rushing through each section and element – just letting the track breathe and do its thing. It would be quite easy for the duo to alter this feeling by adding more depth or tempos, but by showing restraint they are able to just let it be what it needs to be.

“Good Intentions II” sharing a similar tonal quality to “I”, this track is just walls of the purist of drones and field recordings of crackling sounds. The drones resonate and loop around in a constant fashion emphasizing their melodic qualities. There is also this constant and very slight growth in the swell of the track where you feel like it almost like waves crashing on the shore, getting progressively further into land before finally battering the land. Deschamps and Abercrombie resist going overboard and pull the music back in the nick of time.

“Mountain Spectre” slow haunting atmospheres swirl around like ghostly apparition which a flickering static lightly coats the music. A combination of darker tones and more wind-swept both exhibit glacial qualities. If I were to compete this with a visual cue I would be thinking of a bird, or in fact a drone that is traveling through a mountain side with a variety of different terrain. You get the feeling of being up in the atmosphere surveying all that is below you and this is purely the result of the drones, their sound qualities and the way the change direction so as to give the feeling of constant movement.

“Autumn” brings us somewhat back to earth with a pastoral feel that harkens back to classic Brian Eon works of the late 70’s/early ’80’s. The grittier field recordings that have been intertwined in several of the tracks on the album are absent resulting in possibly the purist ambient piece of the release. The music shares similar qualities to the others in regards to its tone, pace and depth of sound, but it stands independent of the what has gone before it. Synths drones that sound like sounds generated from an instrument such as a piano accordion give another edge to the piece as they have a slightly different texture. With the final minutes approaching the music then goes to the next level with additional distorted howling drones which somewhat block out the other sounds, but also extend the piece outwardly. The music ends on a high slowly drifting off into silence with vapour trail drones.

North Atlantic Drift clearly show how to do Ambient/Drone. If you were looking at a textbook example of construction, layering, sound quality and execution, then look no further. My only (minor) complaint would be the use of field recordings which are noticeable by their absence in tracks such as “Autumn”, as musically the tracks without slightly stand out more than those that do. An enjoyable journey in drone.

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