Soundscape master Scott Morgan (better known by his working name, Loscil) and the cellist Mark Bridges have birthed and produced, as the duo High Plains, a debut record of trembling, authentic majesty, and critics will be left puzzled with ways to describe the riveting tones and shuddering beauty of their collaboration. It’s just that good: Top 10 year-ending lists good.
Dubbed Cinderland and out on Kranky March 10, the nine-track outing was recorded in a refurbished school house in Saratoga, Wyoming – a bit of a trek from Vancouver for Morgan and Madison, Wisconsin for Bridges — and you can sense the cinematic grandeur of their mountainous surroundings. While it might be a stretch to call it a tribute or homage to rolling or oversized terrain, the thesis is not far from truth; on some tracks, like the exasperated “A White Truck,” which ascends to a climax, you can feel the altitude and smell the thinning air. But, elsewhere, the duo succeeds just by nature of finding points of intersection and introspection, be it Morgan’s shadowy, dissolving pulses, Bridges’ sawed strings or the lullaby of the schoolhouse’s resident Steinway D piano. On the album-opening title track, sheer avant-classical brilliance, in fact, you get all three.
The weepy early moments of tracks like the mesmerizing “Black Shimmer” call to mind the hand-crafted Impressionism of Rachel’s and, even moreso, Rachel Grimes’ The Clearing. Here and there, you’ll spot the lingering spirit of Schubert. This is self-serious stuff, a snapshot of quietude and not solely the more emotional rites of passage of a post-rock-inspired band like Stars of The Lid or A Winged Victory For The Sullen, with whom Morgan has toured.
While I’m not as versed in Bridges’ work as I am in Morgan’s, it’s interesting to hear how in sync the two of them are, a step beyond the provided cello recordings Bridges did for Morgan’s music app ADRIFT in 2015. On tracks like the record-closing “Song For A Last Night,” where you can hear floorboards creek under Morgan’s plodding notes and the subdued cries of Bridges’ cello, they speak with one voice in surprising fashion. It can be downright mesmerizing.
Pratfalls? None. This is carefully charted terrain, as ambient music goes. Shortcomings? I can’t find any. In short, this is exactly the kind of gem you’d hope to discover when you tell someone to imagine Loscil with cello. If you’re a fan of either of these musicians or merely curious for a point of introduction, seek out Cinderland. You won’t be let down.