High Plains take their name from a geographic area of the United States, an area known for its barren landscape and low population. Their debut album Cinderland evokes this isolated feeling.
Music can be heavily attached to place. Most music is in some way. It’s hard to deny that 1970s New York punk would exist without the seedy drug culture and the dirty, dingy apartments and clubs that housed the bands. The feelings evoked by a place are ingested, digested, and then projected as art, and in this case music. High Plains take their name from a geographic area of the United States, an area known for its barren landscape and low population. The artists even met up in the dead of a Wyoming winter to record. Their debut album Cinderland evokes this isolated feeling and spreads it to the listener.
High Plains is a collaboration between Scott Morgan and Mark Bridges. Scott Morgan most notably works under the name Loscil, while Mark Bridges is a classically trained cellist. Loscil has been with Kranky since its inception over 15 years ago, which is a stamp of approval in itself. Loscil makes ambient music similar to Wolfgang Voight’s Gas project, meaning it sometimes sounds like you left a box fan on high in your kitchen while someone is plunking on a synthesizer in your living room. It can be beautiful, but it’s always sparse. The influences seem disparate, but the musicians adapt throughout Cinderland to create something outside of their prior known work.
Many will be drawn to High Plains from its association with Loscil. If this includes you, then the first thing you will notice is the relative accessibility of High Plains in comparison. The opening track, “Cinderland”, begins by flirting with drone, but quickly opens up to a melodically pleasing keyboard line, and the cello follows suit. While the melodies in the work of Loscil sometimes take minutes or longer to unfold, the music on Cinderland often exposes itself quickly and then prefers to repeat and morph. For example, the melody that sets the foundation for “Blood That Ran the Rapids” shows itself quickly but the musicians spend the rest of the song morphing it and adding layers of noise. It’s quite a different listening experience from long-form ambient. It’s like a set of pop tunes for the ambient fan.
Outside of one noise explosion in “White Truck”, the album itself is not in the least bombastic, but that seems to be the point. It often plays like the soundtrack to a nature film -- a Koyaanisqatsi for the open plains of Wyoming, or South Dakota, or Nebraska. Little happens, but that’s the pleasure. As “Ten Sleep” unfolds slowly, from one moment to the next nothing instantly noticeable happens, but it does change, it does expand slowly. Elsewhere, “Hypoxia” is essentially just four minutes of a temperamental cello sliding across strings in a seemingly random order under a synth pad foundation. Later, “Rushlight” is little outside of a few moody keyboard vamps. Basically, the album is as bleak as the location that inspires it.
All the prior description may seem negative, but this is not necessarily the case. The album’s intent is not to impress. The album’s intent is to evoke a landscape, a lonely one at that. In the high plains, life can be a bit dull. It’s powerful to be conscious of the slight things. Cinderland challenges you to notice.