Adrift Off the Islets of Langerhans with Cousin Silas
This is a quiet, magical album – and its composer is generously giving it away as a free download. In his Yorkshire studio, ambient composer Cousin Silas has methodically been creating one fascinating series of soundscapes after another, a mix of desolate, chilly, Ballardian instrumentals and gently hovering, trance-inducing themes. Ironically, although his work is high-tech and heavily produced, the effect it creates is completely organic: he creates a vivid milieu and then sets you down there. His previous album Canaveral Dreams ranked high on our list of the best albums of 2010; this one drifts closer to pure ambience rather than the eerie keyboard themes that dominated that one. Although there is rhythm in his music, it tends to be glacial: the pace shifts so slowly that the changes creep up on you, an effect which is often psychedelic and sometimes…well, creepy.
The opening track sets the tone, a subtly shifting, echoey soundscape – in academic circles, this is known as horizontal music, whose changes occur in timbre and shading rather than with a melody that moves from one note to another and so forth. The one after that sets echoey, staccato, minimalist U2-style guitar rhythm (or what sounds like a guitar, anyway) against a drone. The Beauty of Loathing adds shifting ambience against more Edge guitar, which eventually builds to a catchy, galloping lick that runs over and over again.
The Lower Field on Ebbetts Farm and Tarnscape are studies on light/dark contrasts, the latter with tongue-in-cheek bird calls that pop in when least expected. The most ethereal composition here is the appropriately titled Empty Coastline, waves hitting the beach through a glass, darkly and distantly. Likewise, The Stalls of Barchester Cathedral creates an eerie, windswept atmosphere with distant mechanical allusions. Building from a murky drone to Pink Floyd-influenced loops, Upstream is the closest thing here to an actual rock-style melody. The album ends with The Loathing of Beauty, an actually quite pretty tone poem that sounds like a lute and harmonium in outer space, and the hypnotically repetitive title track – whales and a mellotron, maybe? As with everything he’s ever done, nothing is exactly as it seems with Cousin Silas. Download it while it lasts.
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