Sketches From
New Brighton





Loscil aka Scott Morgan is back with his sixth album on his house label Kranky. On Sketches From New Brighton, the Vancouver-based artist continues his self-proclaimed environmental dialog, but not with the help of field recording devices or acoustic instruments instead of predominantly synth-driven transformations of his surroundings. The nine presented songs altogether belong to this category, their track titles aren’t cryptic, but give a first and accurate hint of what to expect, for they are all related to New Brighton's ocean side park in Vancouver; I will be more precise about this significant location as the review progresses. The mood is mainly nostalgia-driven, Loscil’s albums are definitely not that easy to digest, as their doleful atmosphere can be hard to take at times, depending, as usual, on personal circumstances, the current season and so on. And yet Loscil’s release may surprise his long-standing fans for two particular reasons: Firstly, there are at least three compositions on this album that aren’t just gloomy or plaintive, but outright grim and intimidating. They are by no means Dark Ambient outings, but in certain terms, they come close. Close enough, I believe, to take them into account if you’re a fan of that genre. Secondly, there is a welcome amount of shifting arrangements. Once Loscil has established a mood, he usually lets it flow and only carefully adjusts it by adding complemental layers or aural molecules. This remains true for Sketches From New Brighton as well, but there are rhythm- and beat-related gimmicks which not only enhance a track or make it more interesting, but somehow stay true or lead back to the established mood. It’s hard to describe, but you will see what I mean when I write about each of Morgan’s nine new tracks in greater detail below. 


The initial point of departure is called Khanamoot, and its status as an opener is no coincidence, for it was situated at the same site as today’s New Brighton Park and was once an inviting saltwater port and stopping point for the local natives. With this link to its (ab)original history in mind, Loscil surprises the listener by launching in medias res, with many textures already intact. High-pitched helicopter-like staccato bass droplets plus a punchier bass drum accompany an incredibly warm, monotonous synth stream which itself is complemented by wonderfully iridescent bursts. These glow in the mellowest way, functioning as a source of luminescence in an otherwise deep and melancholic composition. When their tone pitch changes, this immediately applies to their luminosity as well. The constant upswell and downfall in tandem with the wafting haze in the distance make this a terrific first artifact which finishes with the showcase of decelerated organ-like bass bubbles which are admixed throughout the track, but only become truly visible in front of the pitch-black veil that marks the end of Khanamoot. In contrast, the following Hastings Sunrise is almost a metallic, circumspectly Industrial amalgamation of the precedent density, with cylonic synth stabs sparkling in-between brazenly piercing train brake-evoking strings of frost whose unvarnished characteristic traits serve as an evocation of the omnipresent constructional engineering at New Brighton; the front artwork gives a hint in this regard. What prevents Hastings Sunrise from becoming an incisively harsh track is the sizzling heat of the soon to be sun-ripened synth concoctions in the background. They pulsate slowly and leave tiny fissures of space which are sutured by their own reverberation and sustain. This track is perfectly balanced, its deepness may be mournful and plaintive, but the transfiguring strings reciprocate the woeful mood and deliver flashing lights, inheriting movement and headway. There’s even a guitar interwoven, but its twangs are heavily filtered and hence unrecognizable.


The next offering Second Narrows harks back to the sepia tones of Loscil’s third album First Narrows (2004) via its title only, as it revs up the synth layers and presents a much more content mood. The synth washes are already illumined right from the get-go, accentuated only by droning bass creeks and silky clicks. An upward pitched scintilla functions as a rhythmical device, and even though it may be looped, it changes its tonality and color with each pulse, never boring the listener. Supplemental gelid flute-like melodies are intertwined, the only potentially autumnal devices of a golden-shimmering solemn hymn. A certain nostalgia is perceptible, but it is only scents or breezes which whirr around the nucleus; they are not strong enough to crush the positive aura. It is up to the self-explanatory Container Ships to resurrect the gunmetal fields. What Hastings Sunrise already depicted in a nothing less than cozily spectral way, Container Ships filters and presents in a new light. Scott Morgan places limewashed yet coruscating vibraphones amid murkily droning waves of cavernous quality, their pernicious bile being much stronger than the adjacently fragile vibes. A muffled two-pulse bass drum expands the duskiness further, and I can’t help myself but to think of Loscil’s second album Submers (2002), which of course featured submarines only. And yet do the heaviness of the dark drones and the traces of liquidness in the reverb of the vibes hark back to this classic. It’s an enthralling, tremendously tense Ambient tune. In contrast, Coyote is virtually celestial and balmy thanks to its mélange of dark drones, conflated pink noise, its popping beat and the wondrous but catchy synth pad melodies which mesh quirkiness with dreaminess. Another well-working addendum consists of the chopped orchestra bells which are encapsulated by the various drone layers. If this tune would have been released on the Kompakt label, I would not even have raised a brow. It’s once again an eminently deep track, but much more vivacious this time due to the glaring beat frame, as Loscil fathoms out the ranges by attaching a Cologne Schaffel sound to a synth-heavy Ambient tune and rounds it off with positively wonky melodies.


Collision Of The Pacific Gatherer is presumably the most convoluted and portentous composition, with strong reminiscences to the Dark Ambient genre, especially so in terms of its abyssal contrabass-like drones and the creepily pulsating nature of its setting; Morgan seems to boost the exertion to new levels, but soon enough sets his priorities on a different layer of uneasiness, as he unleashes rapid-firing clicks, pops and crackles together with Geiger counter-evoking sawtooth particles. The thickness of both the percussion layers and the blood-curdling blackness of the drones paint an apocalyptic scenario that is nonetheless not overly melodramatic but mellow enough to fit into the grand overarching scheme of Sketches From New Brighton. However, this is, at least to my mind, Loscil’s most soul-crushing piece as of late. As if to emend this perception, Cascadia Terminal is a wonderfully glacial Ambient tune in the veins of Taylor Deupree’s Stil. (2002), Tetsu Inoue’s Inland (2010) or Fescal's Alchemical Wanderings (2012). This electro-acoustic setting breaks the boundaries of the album: icy crystal shards and whispering white-tinted gleams are grouped around a monotonous synth stream, the surprisingly mollifying nexus of this track. There is no darker element to be injected, and while there are decisively dubby bass eruptions, they only carve out the vitreous superimposition of this track further. It’s already a huge favorite of mine, and will earn a place in my Ambient playlist for Winter. The penultimate Fifth Anchor Span relies on the darkness of Collision Of The Pacific Gatherer, but now one can pinpoint the echoey guitar layers in-between the droning ship horns, the bass line of three consecutive beats and the scrunchy shakers. As it is by now expected, there are two elements of light which work their ways through the grey-colored teariness: a Rhodes piano and a glinting steel guitar. Their tone range, however, remains in minor, making this the most haunting and crestfallen track of the album. It’s one thing to listen to threatening soundscapes, but another one to be confronted with utterly melancholic tracks such as this one. The final Prairie Trains shifts into another direction, and it doesn’t feature any bonfire sequences or banjo melodies, but consists of ethereally seraphic synth washes which are sped up until they resemble a cherubic train of light. Belly-massaging bass lines and swirling percussive ornaments complete the outro of Sketches From New Brighton.


Sketches From New Brighton may venture into both elysian and enigmatic realms, elevating the listener to towering skies only to present him gargantuan machineries, constructions and ships in an encrypted and incensed way, but the real energy source which nurtures the majority of the patterns, beats, synth washes and their textures is a strong melancholia. It is neither necessarily the sadness-evoking kind, nor the glorifying insinuation. Since New Brighton is considered the cradle of Vancouver, a certain heaviness steeped in history is definitely appropriate and expected in regard to the typical style of Loscil which Scott Morgan has, so I think, fully developed with his third album First Narrows already. The deepness, depth and thickness of the synth layers usually serve the purpose of letting the listener submerge, and this is no different on Sketches From New Brighton. Once again do the front artwork and the actual music form a poignant symbiosis. By tendency, I personally rate the brighter and mellower songs of this album higher, but even those aren’t your typical Ambient pieces: while Khanamoot and Hastings Sunrise depict the interplay between darkness and light, with lots of illuminating or downright thundering devices being placed in a void of nostalgic heaviness, it is the second phase of Second Narrows which introduces an enchanting faux-club compatible setting. Maybe you have noticed it, but I have just mentioned the first three songs of the album as my favorites already, even though there is so much more of which I am fond of, especially so the frostily crystalline sphere of Cascadia Terminal, and since I’m a fan of Dark Ambient music, I’m aslo impressed and intimidated by Collision Of The Pacific Gatherer and Container Ship with their baneful, threatening approach. Whatever you desire from or expect of Loscil’s new album, he delivers. Naturally, you are advised to be fond of a synth-driven melancholia-fueled gloominess-causing ambience, but even if you are only familiar of at least one of these three attributes, give Scott Morgan’s Sketches From New Brighton a chance. It is available on double vinyl, CD and in all digital download stores.

Further reading:

Loscil’s Twitter account is @_loscil_.





Ambient Review 128: Loscil – Sketches From New Brighton (2012). Originally published on Sep. 26, 2012 at AmbientExotica.com.