Dreamy, ethereal, other-worldly – all could be used to describe Keep the Ocean Inside, Pittsburgher Maureen “Maux” Boyle’s engaging sophomore outing as The Seven Fields of Aphelion and her first since 2010’s Periphery. A San Diego musician I once interviewed called composer Harry Partch’s work a kind of Martian folk music; Boyle’s signature brand of ambient-classical also fits the bill. It’s enveloping and intoxicating stuff.
A live keyboardist for TOBACCO and Black Moth Super Rainbow, Boyle gets a lot of mileage out of synth washes on the 12-track offering, out Friday on Rad Cult. What’s the most interesting, however, is what lurks beneath that veil. In the nine-minute-long “Triptych/Going Under/The Blur/The Way Beyond,” there are the washes and Boyle’s whispery voice, a breathy thing sans lyrics at the forefront of the mix. But what really grabs your attention and moves you is an elegantly restrained bit of piano. On the beautiful “The Ocean Inside,” it’s the sing-song of Rhodes; on the album-opening “Divining (Naming Of The Lost),” it’s a repeating motif, again on piano, that sounds like it’s being plucked out by a harp.
There are a good number of moments that verge on the teary-eyed, whether it’s the incredible “True North,” a stand-out which starts with a resolved piano line that gives way to weeping synths, the warbly-but-weepy “Sirens, Cerulean Swell,” or the melancholic closer, “High Water Mark (To Wash Away).” By the end of the record, in fact, while the washes and voice-drones are still prominent, they have given way to a love of melody that makes these sound-portraits feel like they’re darting in various emotional directions. More than constructions of sound, they become a kind of dictated alienation or – at times, even – what feels like a longing for connection. Boyle’s emotive work indeed invites interpretation.
One must pose the question as to whether Boyle will ever use words or text, in more conventional senses, to accompany her compositions. It’s worth asking. The addition of breathy voices here lends tones and connotations of angelic choirs and lost sirens. You can only imagine what other tricks this Pittsburgher has up her sleeve. Hopefully, it won’t take seven more years for her to reveal them.