In the summer of 1983, a couple was found murdered in their beachfront cottage on Sea Island, Georgia. William B. Roberts, a former president of Chevron International Oil, Inc., was 61, and his wife, Merrill, was 52. They had been dead for four days when their naked bodies were discovered in two separate bathrooms, “repeated layers of cloth and tape covered their heads from chin to forehead”. When an autopsy was performed, it was revealed that they met their end by way of slowly suffocating. A day later, one of the suspects, a landscaper who worked on the island, drank paraquat, a weed killer, while being pursued by police, and died of lung, liver and kidney failure in a hospital two days afterward. Until then known more for visits by industrial tycoons and political heavyweights, Sea Island now had its first homicides; a dramatic rupture in genteel tranquility.
Over the past 15 years, Scott Morgan has released a series of consistent and refined electronic ambient records under his Loscil alias. Working with an array of flat to fluorescent greys, mixing in guests and live instruments among the pulsating blips and digital vapors, Loscil’s compositions cling to the surface but are not two-dimensional. They make ripples, but not waves. Their dynamic complexity is belied by how closely each piece is nestled together. Despite any ominous symbolism in the title, Sea Island does not shatter the serene identity that Morgan has been sculpting like a bonsai tree from at least as far back as First Narrows, a creative breakthrough of sorts, up to his last album for Kranky, Sketches From New Brighton in 2012. It tugs and tinkers, but does not tear.
In places, however, something sinister in the underlying mood bubbles up. Loscil has done plenty of soundtrack work, and the sense of foreboding in the forefront of “Ahull” and “Catalina 1943” would be well suited for tense cinematic scenes. If the seemingly endless recent stream of grim British crime dramas hasn’t come calling for Morgan yet, they should be pointed in the direction of Sea Island. More naturally observational than purposefully narrative, as with other Loscil records, there isn’t exactly an arc of conflict and resolution to be gleaned within the progression of these 11 songs. The theme of seafaring is certainly at work in the titles, with “Ahull”, “Angle of Loll”, and “Angle of List”, among others. Such an inspiration is more of a jumping-off point than an end, a tangible reference to provide grounding for atmospheres that otherwise elude explanation.
The patient unfurling of Sea Island, thought, is distinct. You can tell a Loscil song in mere seconds. Such are the self-made parameters of Morgan’s sound that Ashley Pitre’s spectral, wordless vocalizations elicit something of a mild shock when they materialize out of the ether on “Bleeding Ink”. Really though, Pitre’s voice has been sanded and set to fit in as an equal part of the song; a continuation of, and not a break from. Contributions from returning collaborators Jason Zumpano (Rhodes keyboard) and Josh Lindstrom (vibraphone) enrich the record but also don’t announce themselves as much as we’ve become accustomed to expect from a guest appearance; like glass in a mosaic, or even stone in concrete. For all the flexibility Loscil continues to find in a rigid form, the ship is hardly ever not upright.