The Immersion name lay dormant for approximately 16 years. Then, in 2016, Colin Newman of Wire and Malka Spigel of Minimal Compact picked up right where they left off with Analogue Creatures Living on an Island (a combination of the EPs Analogue Creatures and Living on an Island). Now with Sleepless, it appears that the electronica husband and wife team are on a roll. Originally conceived as an anonymous act to round out the roster on their swim~ label, the Immersion name continues to gather baggage as the years roll on — a debut album, a remix of the debut album, a sophomore album equipped with a bonus disc, two EPs combined for a reunion album, and now this. Immersion mach 2.0 may end up being just as prolific as 21st century Wire.
Immersion, however, deals within a limited number of sounds and tempos. That, of course, means that if you are a fan, you are well served. Beyond the usual cast and crew of heavenly synth pads, major seventh chords, minimal melodies, and carefully synchronized percussion, the non-fan will really need to get down on their hands and knees and start parsing everything apart with a fine-toothed comb. Sleepless is a fine album, but it may take a few extra variables to get that potential Wire fan to wonder why he or she should spend extra money on a side project.
Sleepless starts with a muggy haze set to a slight shuffle with “Microclimate”, getting things off to an overall mellow start. “Off Grid” turns up the intensity ever so slightly with its throbbing ground bass and absence of a percussive beat. By “MS19”, the tempo has managed to increase while the surrounding sounds have calmed substantially. But Immersion has always been, if not anything else, very subtle. Even with its danceable rhythm, a track like “Hovertron” doesn’t rely on a climax so much as the act of slowly adding different synthesizer parts to the mix.
One track that manages to reach above and beyond the self-imposed confines of Immersion’s formula to strike the listener right between the eyes is “The Humming Sea”. As three bubbling chords climb up in the lower register, a simple two-note figure dances over the top. The modulation between minor and relative major goes by almost unnoticed, making Immersion’s power of subtlety that much more potent. At 4:30, it almost feels too short. Oh, if only all nine songs on Sleepless could leave you, indeed, that sleepless (though the quiet mid-song break of the album’s closer “Io” managed to stop me in my routine).
In an interview, Colin Newman told me that Immersion often manages to connect very well with a live audience. It’s easy to believe that the duo’s dynamic range must not come through on their albums as successfully as on stage, making an album like Sleepless a partway muted affair. It’s still an enjoyable collection performed by a highly capable team — it’s just not the sound of potential being fully realized.