The Canadian label Polar Seas Recordings joined the vinyl fray towards the end of 2019 with these two albums being their first releases on this format. From an outsider I take it to mean that the label is in a healthy position to move from their traditional cassette and CD-R’s releases. Both albums are spirited choices, making the decision an inspired one.
For this review I will start with their most recent release “Pillars” by North Atlantic Drift aka Mike Abercrombie and Brad Deschamps (Polar Seas Recordings boss). Last seen on these pages with the “Departures Vol. 2” release on Sound In Silence, the duo have seen a change to the way that they work together as a result of living in different cities and interacting through file sharing. When you think about such ways of composing there is a little niggle in the back of your mind that thinks maybe the sound could be disjointed. Clearly that is not the case with Ambercrombie and Deschamps proving that they are either very much on the same page or that part of their collaboration involved good communication.
As with any form of music together there tends to be a glut. This is fairly evident with the amount of material being released on any given day. Some of the artists that release these works that add to the glut, especially of the uninspired variety, can over time evolve into better artists, while others have the good from day one. Some of the artists that release Ambient music do it in two main forms – the regular stream of releases or the more measured approach. Seeing as there was approximately sixteen months between releases it’s clear that North Atlantic Drift take the latter option as it is also clear about them having the goods. That is not to say that the artists themselves have been relaxing with Deschamps other than running the label, put out 5 releases with labels such as Home Normal, Archives and Whitelab Rec to name a few.
The music on “Pillars” extends on the tapestry of their music as heard on “Distances Vol. 2” with the glacial pacing, hints of (but not too much) melancholy and multi dimensional sound. There is a somewhat metallic and metallic I mean rusty as opposed to heavy metal, feel of the music. It’s like a decay has set in and you could compare to the ageing structures of the front cover. “Parapet” probably epitomises this sound/feeling the best. The opener “Artificial Lakes” demonstrates this as well as having an austere feeling to the piece and a density and depth of sound which the mastering job by Ian Hawgood helps bring out. Melodies abound in “Astray” pointing out their difference, but they really come to the fore with the track “Now More Than Ever” that has the slow moving feel of a wave that gentle rises and falls as the drones and the ambience ever so subtlety drift in and out. Repetition and change work hand in had in this meditative sort of piece making for the type of ambience that I find immensely appealing.
But if you were thinking by my use of the words drifting and glacial that is all you could expect from the album, then “Lost Years” changes those expectations as it manages to encapsulate all think the styles like melancholy, glacial, drifting and melody with a focus on making a more grander piece. The track moves through the various movements nicely weaving in the aforementioned styles and creating a piece that has a balance that is second to none. It holds the qualities of the drift, but also adds in what I call the widescreen approach – where the artist of a particular piece of music use elements in such a way that it sneaks up on you as to how expansive it is within a rather minimalist framework.
It’s probably a little cheeky on my part to use a quote from my review of their last album to wrap up this review. That said the reason is quite simple, I still stand by the words. “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.” “Pillars” is available on Limited Red Vinyl (only 100 copies), Digital and comes recommended.
“Polar Seas is excited to welcome Moss Covered Technology (Greig Baird) with his newest work Slow Walking on limited vinyl. Greig has released some of our favourite albums over the last few years on Eilean Rec, Fluid Audio and Hibernate. Slow Walking is full of lush synthesized ambience, with lovely texture and attention to detail which makes for a deep and rewarding listen.”
Like other artists that have featured on these pages Moss Covered Technology has a collection of envious labels behind his releases. Prior to his current moniker Baird also recorded under the BMRN name. “Slow Walking” is an album I have listened to both with intention and as background soundtrack to other blog posts. What I have noticed is that it’s the kind of release that demands the attention to it, rather than ‘just something to listen to’. Like the above North Atlantic Drift album there is a an essence of glacial pacing with the music, but like he above press quote makes mention to, there is a nice synth lead feel. Some ambient music can sort of remove itself from the instruments that construct it, but with this album the major sound sources are clearly there for listeners to embrace while leaving something up to the imagination.
This album could be the soundtrack for those times early in the morning around dawn when everyone else is still asleep. There is a silence with only the noises of appliances to be heard and then you put your headphones on and listen to this album. There is a delicateness that is infused with melody that results in a feeling that combines a wistful sense of wonder with a ever so slight touch of melancholy. The pieces like “Returning / Erosion” demonstrate his particular balance and also have a certain amount of weight to them that prevents them from being whispy and blown away. “Forgotten Views” is a highlight with it’s Eno-esque opening and bouncing repetitive synth lines that add colours to the piece as they radiate outwards. The way the piece ever so gradually expands is what makes it so successful as is the way that Baird invites the listener in for a deeper listen to investigate all the little filigree which makes the track such a triumph.
The album is broken up with three similarly titled tracks – “Gen #2 “, Gen #3 ” and “Gen #4”, just what “Gen” and the mystery of the missing “Gen #1” is I am not sure, but on these pieces Baird explores more tonal, almost glitchy pieces which breaks up the album. They come across as experiments with sound and possibly the influence of electronica from the golden period of late 90’s / early 00’s. The album comes full circle track wise with the piece “Arrival Process” which contrasts with opener “Departure Process” as the latter engaged in a noisier, intense sound palette. “Arrival Process” shares the glacial qualities of the opener, while having a more meditative, relaxed and at piece feeling. Possibly, there is some form of concept within the album that certain titles allude to with enough of an ambiguity to keep the listener guessing and coming up with their own theories.
“Slow Walking” nicely pairs “Pillars” and highlights what an interesting 2020 could bring from the label. “Slow Walking” is available on limited LP and Digital.