Fifth album from masterful Vancouver ambient musician throws into sharp relief how moribund most of the genre is getting.
The music of Loscil, who is Vancouver's Scott Morgan (when he's not drumming for Destroyer) tends to have a heavy conceptual bent. If he's not making albums about thermodynamics or submarines, he's releasing a compilation of background drones from his other records or making another one about steam. None of this is bad. The reason people listen to and like Morgan's music comes down to what they hear and not how they theorize, and working in such a relatively nebulous field means it's understandable that Morgan might want to employ various organizing principles. But it's not intrinsically good, either; there's always the danger that an artist like Morgan will get so caught up in his process that he neglects the end product, and that listeners will be sufficiently impressed by that process that they praise the results anyway.
All of which is to say, I have little to no idea what the conceptual underpinning of the newest Loscil album is and I plan to keep it that way. The music is more than enough for me. There's plenty that's evocative about Endless Falls, from the field recordings of rain that bookend the album (and the accompanying cover photo), to track titles like "Shallow Water Blackout" and "Showers of Ink", to the very suggestive monologue from Destroyer's Dan Bejar (the first vocals on a Loscil track) that runs though the closing "The Making of Grief Point". Expecting or wanting concrete answers for what it all means is like worrying about the way a great evocative TV show (Lost, say, or The Prisoner) fails to add up precisely and perfectly. There's something appealing to art that suggests without dictating answers, and there's little to indicate that finding out what Morgan is actually up to would improve or change the richly textured, dubby ambience of his music.
Yet I don't think we should call Endless Falls ambient dub (the lovely and self-identifying "Dub for Cascadia" aside). A track like "Estuarine" is far too active to be strictly ambient, sounding more like the aquatic cousin of one of the tracks from Marsen Jules' beautifully refracted work on Les Fleurs than anything else. Here Morgan has mostly moved away from the improvised live collaborations that marked his last few albums for a more solitary style of creation (although the seemingly composed strings on the opening "Endless Falls" are a ravishing exception) that suits his subtly powerful melodies and nonabrasive repetition. If you were trying to attract ambient neophytes to Endless Falls, you might say that Morgan's work here occasionally sounds a bit like the Field if Axel Willner started moving at about a quarter speed, or like Tangerine Dream if they weren't obsessed with arpeggios.
Neither comparison really does Morgan any favours, but as you can tell from the gently moving drone and flute-like melody (or is that just a flute?) of "Fern and Robin" or the ghostly strings of "Lake Orchard," he doesn't need the help. Loscil's music presents ambient as arresting, playful, lively music. Unlike too many of the middling efforts in the genre, it doesn't strand you in the middle of immense fields of beige and pretend austerity is an end in itself. There are depths to Endless Falls, sure, but they're not empty depths. As Bejar's personal-crisis-and/or-aesthetic-manifesto monologue makes clear, the brain behind Loscil's music is just as active and vital as what it produces.