A melancholy pall hangs over much of Loscil’s Monument Builders, a mysterious little nugget of an LP out since November on Kranky Records. Musician’s musician (and sole “band” member) Scott Morgan’s successor to 2014’s Sea Island sounds far grayer and more saturated in sadness than its predecessor and, for a miserable bastard like me, that’s just perfect. There a few bumpy spots, to be sure, and the whole thing comes in, quite literally, a bit short (38 minutes is not my idea of a fix) but Morgan shows himself to be at the top of his game, and tracks like open-opener “Drained Lake” will disarm you with their fragility, strip your skin and shave you down to the goddamn bone.
Some people like ambient music for its precision. I don’t fault them that. Rock music can have a lot of bumps and cracks, though, these days, the modern mainstream PRODUCER is paid well to scrub those out. But the finest ambient music still throbs with a heartbeat, still has an underlying sense of organics, of humanity. Morgan seems to inherently have a grasp on this and his music, which toys with simple statements and truncates and builds around them in grander narratives, is far from obtuse. The details, when writ large, become like thesis statement. Is that a Ry Cooder guitar softly pulsing its dying breaths on “Drained Lake?” On “Straw Dogs,” whose climax/anti-climax teases you for what seems like three-quarters of its running time, are we hearing sampled wails over that synth? Do the high notes on “Deceiver” hint at the lusty but lonesome cry of alto sax or I am just drowning too much in it?
Morgan’s music takes you away and, though the construction is always a precise – even the slightest exhalation of an oscillator is maniacally intentional – the emotion really seals the deal, here even moreso than on the well-lauded Sea Island. In retrospect, that offering sounds even a little quaint, which is quite odd, given how much punch it packed when it was released two years ago.
So, the downsides I mentioned? I could do without the Tron-ish introduction of “Red Tide” and, for a record that is light on minutes, I felt like the breezy “Anthropocene,” with the sounds, one could imagine, of flight, was a bit too close to the realm of filler. But, for a start-to-finish read, even they fit well, like puzzle pieces placed, again, exactly where Morgan intended them to fall.
Though the cover art might suggest otherwise, I’d like to posit, with these tragic little songs, that the monument Morgan is building on his latest outing is not a skyscraper but a tombstone. Let us all be so lucky to call it our own.