The term “sketches” seems to imply a work in progress. They’re rough drafts or demos, pieces that likely only serve as an outline or an unrefined idea. They have places to go still, perfecting to be done, gaps to be filled. A sketch is not a finished work of art, it’s just a sketch, which is why Jeff Buckley’s final, unfinished album was titled Sketches for My Sweetheart the Drunk. As pertains music, however, a sketch can sometimes be an interpretation or an adaptation — Miles Davis’ Sketches of Spain, for instance, an album so elaborately orchestrated and carefully composed, it could in no way be confused for being a work in progress.
Loscil, aka Vancouver musician Scott Morgan, deals in ambient soundcapes, his bread and butter being the kind of minimal, atmospheric creations that fall somewhere between the haunting drones of Tim Hecker and the hypnotic techno of Pantha du Prince. For as sparse as his compositions sometimes are, though, Morgan’s newest set, Sketches From New Brighton, is by no means a rough or unfinished product. A seaside park in Vancouver, supposedly the birthplace of the city, reportedly inspires the album and it’s a fitting image for an album with such slow, picturesque beauty.
With few tracks that rise or fall beyond certain repetitions of phrases, gentle tones or lightly clicking BPMs, Sketches From New Brighton is a comfortable addition alongside Loscil’s discography to date. Morgan’s challenge as an ambient artist is to find a proper balance between music dominated entirely by atmosphere and that which leaves some kind of impression, and though the album never goes pop or pure noise, it nonetheless maintains that balance with a graceful, emotional weight. The shuffled patter of “Khanamoot” pulses with the dreamy vibe of The Field, though Morgan only flirts with techno, never fully committing to its brazen lure. The wheezing metallic effects and melancholy chords of “Hastings Sunrise” affect an Angelo Badalmenti kind of cool darkness, albeit without the `50s-style Twin Peaks finger snaps. And with “Coyote,” a barely-there drone gives rise to a psychedelic array of voicings that makes for a pleasantly hallucinatory experience.
The relationship to which the music on Sketches From New Brighton has to its titular locale is something that only Scott Morgan can truly comprehend, but the soft, chilly and gentle sounds it contains speak to a rich, if dark and obscured landscape, whose Pacific Northwestern cloud formations are a perennial sight. Gorgeously evocative, and romantically gloomy, Sketches From New Brighton leaves a lot open-ended, but as a finished product contains volumes.
Stream: Loscil – “Coyote”
Jeff Terich is the founder and editor of Treble. He's been writing about music for 20 years and has been published at American Songwriter, Bandcamp Daily, Reverb, Spin, Stereogum, uDiscoverMusic, VinylMePlease and some others that he's forgetting right now. He's still not tired of it.