North Sea
Beneath Us EP






Formerly Glasgow-based DJ and Ambient musician Graeme Robbie is back… and resides somewhere else right now. No worries, he is no transcendental being yet, but simply oscillated toward Aberdeen. His sixth artifact under the moniker of North Sea is called Beneath Us EP and is released in March 2014 as a digital download and a limited edition CD-R that comes in the shape of a dark blue full color glossy disc which itself is housed in a transparent sleeve and wrapped in fabric. Available to purchase and stream at Bandcamp, the EP continues Robbie’s effort of combining Modern Classical piano formations with electronically altered antimatter, be it field recordings, processed strings or scything noise vestiges. Beneath Us EP is created in turbulent and stressful times, true that, but the listener won’t notice any rush or hurry, let alone mayhem in any of the seven included tracks. The secret of this EP cannot be unveiled by me, no matter how hard I try, but I can at least delineate the importance of paradoxes or oxymorons in this dark world as depicted by Robbie: he revealed to me that this EP is (also) about the feeling of belonging within a city environment. And yet his tracks continue to showcase the ghostly, eldritch gestalt of his previous works such as Ancients EP (2012). Living in a big city does not translate to a healthy life full of good friends or a connection of and to loved ones, no surprise here, but it is as fascinating as it is frightening to see even the slightest hint of life in the city amiss. Graeme Robbie’s Ambient works are more akin to an apocalypse and the conclusive forceful withdrawal. He sees the environment hued in utter darkness. Isolation lurks – and lures – everywhere. Why, then, is the EP called Beneath Us? Read more about North Sea’s compositions below.


The opener Onward, I is the gateway to a more cinematic approach that should not be put on a level with histrionic explosiveness; instead, Graeme Robbie carves out his concept of piano-interspersed Ambient-based nuclei further via a granular haze of iridescent icicles, cautiously staggering – and thus paradoxical – paroxysms in low frequency form as well as music box-resembling fairy tale melodies on the glockenspiel and piano. The antediluvian vinyl crackles provide the retrogressive backdrop that covers the feeling of utter ostracism in favor of a milky veil or glow, not entirely unlike the front artwork whose crestfallen darkness is successfully pushed away near the respective ignis fatuus. A genuine piano arrangement at heart, Onward, I sees its pith ameliorated with the same mélange of textures as included in the following title track Beneath Us. Prolonged argentine sine tones, a delicate lo-fi recording of piano sequences oscillating between threnody and solace as well as a partially uncanny scraping on wooden and metallic surfaces altogether augment the darkness instead of fighting it off. Legato string serpentines coat the scenery that slightly inches towards a Blade Runner-esque dark matter reticulation at one point, but then fathoms the catenae of senescence via boosted layers, more aquatic-vitreous piano droplets and an infinitesimally, almost unnoticeable, pentatonic sidestep into Far Eastern climes. In the centerpiece Wings Beat, North Sea resurrects the brazen-diaphanous Drone gusts that graced his Night Drifts EP of 2013. While the piano melody is soothing and even balmy, the fusillade of etiolated drones resembles bevies of bumblebees, with their menacing portent implied. This synthesis of admonitory danger and helicoidal undercurrents is particularly notable and softly apocalyptic… again quite incongruous in general, but not in the erected endemics of the Beneath Us EP.

To Ground is next on the agenda, an almost necrophiliac mood piece of fittingly downwards-spiraling piano vesicles. Like silky curtains, the motif wafts in the wind, aglow but rufescent, entrapped in complete darkness. Here, for once, Grame Robbie decides to let the silent background interact with the piano, threatening its luminosity by means of… nothingness. Naturally, the diorama does not consist of utter darkness: aerose streams resemble cars driving by, a current of silvery fizzles occurs for a moment, but these instances notwithstanding, To Ground is a morbid take on withdrawal and forsakenness. How life-affirming the following 23 is in contrast! Just one number behind a hopeless catch–22, the magical number functions as a synthesis of various vignettes and segues pressed into a three-minute capsule. Not much room in there, maybe a hint at each individual’s lifespan that feels ever-shorter the more activities and duties are imposed on one’s shoulders? Functioning more as an alatoric stream of consciousness than a well-developed masterplan, 23 launches with North Sea’s pernicious dun-colored bee-like string cavalcades and then moves over to electric piano backing chords in adjacency to a triad of glacial piano prongs, reversely played afterglows plus a wonky two-note accompaniment before the return of the apocryphal strings make this piece a quasi-similitude which may lack the mathematical precision of a parabola, but works in other meaningful ways. Situated next to 23 is Home, a piece which should fire on all cylinders and spawn elation, euphony and bliss. Zilch. Instead of vivacity and gladness, the thermal heat of this piece is humid, heavy and engulfing. Resembling an echopraxia of chamber music driven by a cello, the only sparkling inclusion is a coil of coruscating crystals which pierce through the thickly wadded petrification. This state is itself annihilated by increasingly industrial drone epitheliums which put an end to the existence of Home, with the last piece Onward, We offering another estranging simultaneity of amicable piano keys and spectral three-note cannelures of mephitic airflows. It is the endpoint. However, no solution is offered. At least the loneliness is shared.


Beneath Us EP maintains and nurtures the path of Graeme Robbie’s Ambient project North Sea. The piano remains in the center of each aural movement’s universe, the downright serious and stern atmosphere is never left for even a short moment, although there are glimpses of circumventions and counterpoints that are softly woven into the murky melting pot. The use of vinyl crackles and hall effects is anything new, and yet their inclusion is worth noting in this particular case, for North Sea does not let the mental image of physical darkness in all too easily. This sentence might sound complex, but the explanation is easy: instead of placing the piano in an empty virtual room which, in tandem with the blue timbre of the melodies and tone sequences, ought to deliver heavy amounts of darkness, loneliness and perceived isolation, there are many conflictive forces that boost the emptiness even though they add something to the arrangement instead of subtracting an element. Incidentally, the Beneath Us EP carries one glimmer of hope that ridicules many of my previous explanations: North Sea worships togetherness! The main title and a few of the tracks imply a bond, a confidant, a friend or loved one. Titles are meaningful and not coincidentally chosen, and so these countermovements have to be taken into account to distill the meaning of the music. Anyway, the will to overanalyze this EP should never spoil the soundscapes themselves, and so I can proclaim the following good news: fans of North Sea’s dark style know what to expect, and likewise expect what to know. Beneath Us EP does not add a new superimposition to the intrinsic realm. There is only a slight but noticeable shift towards piano-centric arrangements, with every other synthetic element or field recording being inferior to the Aberdeen-based producer’s compositional skills. I can sense, however, that there is more to the EP than a mere continuation, given that Robbie wrote these structures while moving between flats. This extrinsic factor is of importance to the producer; the listener, meanwhile, can look forward to the sixth North Sea sparkler that lives up to the heaviness and serious overtones of his previous works.


Further listening and reading: 

  • Beneath Us EP can be purchased and fully streamed at Bandcamp
  • Graeme Robbie/North Sea’s Twitter account: @grobbie_sound.


Ambient Review 325: North Sea – Beneath Us EP (2014). Originally published on Mar. 19, 2014 at