Alex Cobb: Passage to Morning

Lulling and introspective, and with its heart firmly within reach, Alex Cobb's Passage to Morning is an exceptional drone album, albeit one that ends far too soon.

Alex Cobb

Passage to Morning

Label: Students of Decay
US Release Date: 2012-11-12
UK Release Date: 2012-11-12

Before Alex Cobb released Passage to Morning--the first full-length solo release under his own name--the overlord of the Students of Decay label was more widely known for the dense, foreboding drones of his Taiga Remains project. Taiga Remains' 2009 album, Wax Canopy, was heaven for lovers of hellish noise, a cruel screed that dove headfirst into cacophonous storms, as well riding the slipstreams of more serene tendrils.

One could, I suppose, link Cobb's choice to revert to his own name with Passage to Morning's warmer nucleus, because while a touch of grimness is still keenly felt, the album's melancholic drones glow with the shimmering light of reflective and poignant intimacy. That's not to imply that Passage to Morning is in anyway wistful, but there's certainly a sense of benevolence, even perhaps dreamy romance, to the album, which is not a theme you'll encounter on many drone releases.

Cobb's minimalist, delicate layering shows acute balance, offering tenderness while retaining all the danger and trepidation that surrounds any emotional risk. "The Habit Body" and "Bewildered by It's Blue", the album's two longest tracks, provide beautiful, expansive journeys, and the gradual infusion of treated guitar, loops, electronics and sheets of analog synthesizer open deep chasms, both tranquil and intense.

Of course, that feeling of affection counterpointed by peril may well be all in my mind, which is the point to Passage to Morning. Cobb himself has his own clear goals, carefully sculpting and arranging the album over many months to suit the theme and tenor he wants to convey. But like all minimalist works of drone and electronica, it’s up to the listener to build their own tale around what are often sparse and spatial sounds. Certainly, there's no mistaking the overall ambience of Passage to Morning. It conjures up moods both sinister and radiant, but there are no voices or overt crescendos to guide you. It's a testament to Cobb's artistry that he’s managed to imbue the album with real emotionality, especially when you consider that so much drone can be clinical and lifeless.

With only five songs, and lasting a mere 36 minutes, Passage to Morning is far too short. Cobb unfurls drones that are gorgeous and graceful, and the brevity of "The Immediate Past" and "Wisp" leave you aching for more. No more is that longing felt, than on the final track, "Landscape Dissolves", which is a sublime five minutes of fading light that ends all on a decidedly bittersweet note.

Throughout Passage to Morning familiar threads come into play. The tonal pulse of vintage Klaus Schulze nestles alongside a similar aesthetic to the works of William Fowler Collins, Thomas Köner, or the compositions of Kyle Bobby Dunn. While the dark rumination of Nurse With Wound's ambient works lurks beneath.

However, while comparisons with other artists help to situate Passage to Morning in a pool of comparable works, it's important to underscore that it’s a deeply personal album, revealing Cobb as an artist capable of simultaneously expressing the shadowy tidings of twilight and the promise of dawn.

Mastering by James Plotkin certainly gives the album fullness and depth, but ultimately, it's the hypnotic pulse of Passage to Morning that secures its connection--making it well beyond mere background or detached drone. Its blend of dissolving melodic lines, waves of occasional dissonance, crepitating tape noise and harmonious swells touch on the brooding and blissful in all of us. While drone can be icy and inhospitable, Cobb ensures that every picturesque vista that appears (glacial or otherwise) is well lit--whether from on high or from below.

Lulling, introspective and unreserved, and with its heart firmly within reach, Passage to Morning is an exceptional drone album, albeit one that ends far too soon.


So far J. J. Abrams and Rian Johnson resemble children at play, remaking the films they fell in love with. As an audience, however, we desire a fuller experience.

As recently as the lackluster episodes I-III of the Star Wars saga, the embossed gold logo followed by scrolling prologue text was cause for excitement. In the approach to the release of any of the then new prequel installments, the Twentieth Century Fox fanfare, followed by the Lucas Film logo, teased one's impulsive excitement at a glimpse into the next installment's narrative. Then sat in the movie theatre on the anticipated day of release, the sight and sound of the Twentieth Century Fox fanfare signalled the end of fevered anticipation. Whatever happened to those times? For some of us, is it a product of youth in which age now denies us the ability to lose ourselves within such adolescent pleasure? There's no answer to this question -- only the realisation that this sensation is missing and it has been since the summer of 2005. Star Wars is now a movie to tick off your to-watch list, no longer a spark in the dreary reality of the everyday. The magic has disappeared… Star Wars is spiritually dead.

Keep reading... Show less

This has been a remarkable year for shoegaze. If it were only for the re-raising of two central pillars of the initial scene it would still have been enough, but that wasn't even the half of it.

It hardly needs to be said that the last 12 months haven't been everyone's favorite, but it does deserve to be noted that 2017 has been a remarkable year for shoegaze. If it were only for the re-raising of two central pillars of the initial scene it would still have been enough, but that wasn't even the half of it. Other longtime dreamers either reappeared or kept up their recent hot streaks, and a number of relative newcomers established their place in what has become one of the more robust rock subgenre subcultures out there.

Keep reading... Show less

​'The Ferryman': Ephemeral Ideas, Eternal Tragedies

The current cast of The Ferryman in London's West End. Photo by Johan Persson. (Courtesy of The Corner Shop)

Staggeringly multi-layered, dangerously fast-paced and rich in characterizations, dialogue and context, Jez Butterworth's new hit about a family during the time of Ireland's the Troubles leaves the audience breathless, sweaty and tearful, in a nightmarish, dry-heaving haze.

"Vanishing. It's a powerful word, that"

Northern Ireland, Rural Derry, 1981, nighttime. The local ringleader of the Irish Republican Army gun-toting comrades ambushes a priest and tells him that the body of one Seamus Carney has been recovered. It is said that the man had spent a full ten years rotting in a bog. The IRA gunslinger, Muldoon, orders the priest to arrange for the Carney family not to utter a word of what had happened to the wretched man.

Keep reading... Show less

Aaron Sorkin's real-life twister about Molly Bloom, an Olympic skier turned high-stakes poker wrangler, is scorchingly fun but never takes its heroine as seriously as the men.

Chances are, we will never see a heartwarming Aaron Sorkin movie about somebody with a learning disability or severe handicap they had to overcome. This is for the best. The most caffeinated major American screenwriter, Sorkin only seems to find his voice when inhabiting a frantically energetic persona whose thoughts outrun their ability to verbalize and emote them. The start of his latest movie, Molly's Game, is so resolutely Sorkin-esque that it's almost a self-parody. Only this time, like most of his better work, it's based on a true story.

Keep reading... Show less

There's something characteristically English about the Royal Society, whereby strangers gather under the aegis of some shared interest to read, study, and form friendships and in which they are implicitly agreed to exist insulated and apart from political differences.

There is an amusing detail in The Curious World of Samuel Pepys and John Evelyn that is emblematic of the kind of intellectual passions that animated the educated elite of late 17th-century England. We learn that Henry Oldenburg, the first secretary of the Royal Society, had for many years carried on a bitter dispute with Robert Hooke, one of the great polymaths of the era whose name still appears to students of physics and biology. Was the root of their quarrel a personality clash, was it over money or property, over love, ego, values? Something simple and recognizable? The precise source of their conflict was none of the above exactly but is nevertheless revealing of a specific early modern English context: They were in dispute, Margaret Willes writes, "over the development of the balance-spring regulator watch mechanism."

Keep reading... Show less
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.