Monolyth & Cobalt
De Lieux






De Lieux by Monolyth & Cobalt aka Mathias Van Eecloo is a softly droning travelog album about various locations as its title poignantly explicates. Released in May 2013 on Gavin Catling's Twice Removed label in both a download version and a limited edition of 100 digipak issues available at Bandcamp and selected retailers soon, it is a strikingly fitting release which takes the connoisseur back to the label's origins. While Twice Removed is not exclusively about electro-acoustic Drone works of the embracing, relaxing kind, the (current) tendency of finding such artifacts in the label catalog is once again a given. Similar to Tim Bass' I Have Become Overcome With Thoughts Of You (2012) which is a quiet and fragile yet sun-dappled Twice Removed release, Van Eecloo's work is not specifically tied to Bass' work, although both share the same structures. De Lieux, meanwhile, draws from a great wealth of instruments in order to unchain its droning landscapes of the imaginary kind. Pianos, xylophones, guitars, even music boxes make it onto the records, often retaining their characteristics, at other times hiding them when residing in lower frequency ranges. Nine tracks full of soothing sine sweeps, coruscating crystals and fragile fractals made it onto the incredibly coherent and balanced tour. Warmth enters through timbre and bass layers, legato washes face sprinkled tremolo strata. When the amount or impetus of the layers grows, the loftiness always remains. As I tend to write in such cases: the listener does not get swallowed. However, De Lieux never feels like a journey… a problem considering Monolyth & Cobalt's focus on story-telling via sounds alone – plus a few spoken words in one instance – and the fact that the album title mentions (various) locations. It wafts along gently and slowly. But how are the locations figuratively reached? In what way are their different landmarks painted? And moreover, is there a sense of progression, a narrative that is unfolding? I am trying to at least touch a few of these questions during my detailed look at the nine tracks.


L'Arrivée (Ankomst) launches the album in that glacial sine pulse-driven kind of way which is so typical for the gateways to electro-acoustic works. What is the timbre going to be, how does the aural color range feel and how does that certain location (!) look once it is fully carved out by the artist? The song title is all the more fitting in this regard. Mathias Van Eecloo decides to marry the glacial coarseness with plinking piano particles of the same tonality, but then injects warmer acoustic guitar globs and even sizzling hot licks of the bucolic-rural bonfire kind. They even inherit that Oriental pentatonic feeling. Their attack rate is too crunchy to be perceived as precursors of a mirage. Even more strikingly is their clarity which towers above the mellow mélange of entangled layer. The arrival at this unspecified location does not happen in a hurry, but in a becalming benign fashion, comforting the listener throughout its duration and encapsulating him or her in a shelter-inducing aura. The following A Wonderful Breath then links acoustic Glitch particles of high piano tones or zithers with a raunchy-lewd spoken sample of an expression that shall remain lost in translation forever and sounds strikingly similar to the song title, only that either the girdling tape hiss, the rain drops on the rooftop or the diffuse white noise strata suddenly let the word breath sound like something entirely else. Without giving away too much on that potentially comical or cheekily audacious moment, it is the guitar complexion in the second half of the long arrangement that is wondrously euphonious, albeit strongly reduced in its ebullience. The strumming is at times coated in hall effects, then appears in a vibrating echo. The coalescence of hiss, rain drops and guitars is the ultimate synergy of a nature-driven endeavor, melodies are hard to grasp despite their obvious omnipresence, the patterns and surfaces create a dualistic moiré of carefreeness and meticulous looks. Wonderful indeed.


Le Repos (De Rest) is a rather dry track with a very genteel fade-in phase of ecclesial organ pedal layers, or so it seems, as these murky-austere drones could also be guitar-driven apparitions. The brighter they become, the more they resemble guitars. Balmy pulses and oscillating static noise coils of the susurrant kinds complete the most basic of all tracks which, despite its minimalism, never feels cold or reduced. The title track De Lieux (July 12th, 2012) has another striking physiognomy, striking only in the most sensible sense of the word, for it is naturally carefully balanced and embedded in the unfolding of the various locations; but here for the first time on the album, Monolyth & Cobalt presents a progressive panorama with a clear buildup. The feeling of dawn is in the air, even more so when additional layers make it increasingly dazzling. The pristine purity of the piercing streams and harp-like spirals result in a gleaming blue-tinged chime-interspersed guitar aurora whose thermal crescendo is eminently uplifting and joyful. Seraphic throughout its duration, De Lieux (July 12th, 2012) is holy and colorful, lofty and profound, or in short: the limewashed bassless centerpiece of the album. While La Marche (Tomorrow's Hills) is shaped in a manner akin to the title track but replaces the crystalline blue skies with orange-colored guitar drones whose different coatings traverse, meet, depart and float into a dusky diorama that illuminates the titular hills in vibrant colors plus brighter flecks, Western completes the timbre-related intensification that started with the blue title track and led to the orange La Marche. In comparison to these two tracks, Western unleashes deep bass chords aplenty. The echoey guitar loops are reminiscent to Klimek's Milk And Honey (2004). Van Eecloo's title is once again astute: wide prairies or steppes are painted, everything is peaceful, but not perfectly so. The tone sequences are murkier, shadier, appear in glowing yet darker colors.


Le Sommeil (Für Kinder) breaks the current theme of saturated colors and reshapes De Lieux back to its original state, namely a coruscating, deliberately fuzzy one. Swelling haze waves, airy plucked-string vesicles, Doppler bells, Glitch pops and crackles as well as a prominent music box melody in tandem with toy ukuleles altogether lead to the track with the largest texture base. There is always something spluttering, bubbling or scintillating. Notwithstanding the clear marker in the title, the purposeful childhood fragments are too blatant and feel too forced to truly enjoy or interpret them as a sort of revelation that would push the travelog further, whatever that means for each listener. What does add an alienating new twist to Monolyth & Cobalt's work is the hatched enigma that is A Last Echo. It breaks the sun-fueled luminosity of the album despite its short duration of a tad more than three minutes. Even though its stop-and-go choir-like loops are charged with tones in major, the whispering echoes that are placed in-between the cusps feel ashen and solemn, and so do the spacey sirens. A Last Echo is a dichotomous sanctuary with scattered traces of eeriness which gyrate around the pastoral location. Speaking of locations: the journey ends with La Possibilité D'une Île (Le Départ) which serves undoubtedly as the conclusion of all previously featured characteristics. This is not to say that it presents each and every instrument or texture used heretofore; it rather involves the microstructures and elemental nuclei which are all intertwined for the last time. Blazing acoustic guitar aortas, reversely played glassy glints, vestiges and blebs find their habitats in this arrangement, the dynamic range is revved up notably, the layers create a denser sound carpet than before, if also a carpet with many fissures and holes through which the echoes escape. Bathing in amicability, La Possibilité D'une Île lives up to its title and presents an insular fluxion of mellifluousness. The floating, ever-vesiculating stream of textures now moulds the fleeting perceptions and occurrences into a singulary location. Monolyth & Cobalt's De Lieux starts to move forward in the very moment it is forced to stand still.


De Lieux is about locations, but in a rather abstract way that is curiously camouflaged: instead of depicting clearly distinct locations with a wealth of characteristics, constitutions and attributes, Monolyth & Cobalt decides to come up with a streamlined zone out approach. The layers are serpentine, the original instruments of certain drones at times unrecognizable, the mood is loaded with contentment and contemplative happiness. Neither are there tones in minor nor convoluted synth structures, everything seems to lay wide open in front of the listener. Therefore, De Lieux does not suggest – not even implicitly – to take a look behind its droning structures. All ingredients remain accessible, a refreshing, most humble approach. And it pays off music-wise. This is no archetypical Drone album. The tiny remainders of Glitch, the overall twinkling architecture, the ensuing crevasses in-between the post-decay phases, all these pigmentations combined build the second macrolayer in adjacency to the first layer, the legato Drone counterpart. The album faces a potential problem though: via its music alone, stripped off its front artwork, liner notes, accompanying texts and background information, De Lieux cannot creatively tell the stories Monolyth & Cobalt is known and loved for. While each vignette is clearly distinctive, it remains cohesive enough to blend with its neighbors or surrounding tracks. It is a gorgeously mellow soundtrack, d'accord, but as a soundtrack to a story, even one about still life, it ultimately fails. In addition, the catchiness of the melodies also fails, but this more often than not turns out to be a boon in Drone works! Luckily enough, Van Eecloo has an ear for dependencies and interpolations of textures, and it so happens that the layers create a sense of happiness, not necessarily in saturated, flamboyant or ecstatic colors, but via pastel-lit murmurs, semi-effulgent molecules and a spoken word at the right time. On De Lieux, Monolyth & Cobalt plays it safe. The amount of different instruments does not correlate with the perceived number of varied ambiences, but if you are a fan of the Twice Removed label in general or Tim Bass' I Have Become Overcome With Thoughts Of You as well as Celer's quieter works à la Lightness And Irresponsibility (2012) and Viewpoint (2013) in particular (which also fail to tell their stories without the listener's glimpse at the explanatory notes), De Lieux is tailored to your taste.



Further listening and reading:

  • You can purchase and listen to De Lieux in full at Bandcamp soon. In the meantime, there is the opportunity to listen to the opener L'Arrivée (Aankomst) in full at SoundCloud.
  • Follow Twice Removed Records on Twitter: @twiceremovedrec.




Ambient Review 214: Monolyth & Cobalt – De Lieux (2013). Originally published on May 8, 2013 at