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. Itâ€™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 â€“ 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 â€œA White Truck,â€ 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 Morganâ€™s shadowy, dissolving pulses, Bridgesâ€™ sawed strings or the lullaby of the schoolhouseâ€™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 â€œBlack Shimmerâ€ call to mind the hand-crafted Impressionism of Rachelâ€™s and, even moreso, Rachel Grimes’ The Clearing. Here and there, youâ€™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 Iâ€™m not as versed in Bridgesâ€™ work as I am in Morganâ€™s, itâ€™s interesting to hear how in sync the two of them are, a step beyond the provided cello recordings Bridges did for Morganâ€™s music app ADRIFT in 2015. On tracks like the record-closing â€œSong For A Last Night,â€ where you can hear floorboards creek under Morganâ€™s plodding notes and the subdued cries of Bridgesâ€™ 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 canâ€™t find any. In short, this is exactly the kind of gem youâ€™d hope to discover when you tell someone to imagine Loscil with cello. If youâ€™re a fan of either of these musicians or merely curious for a point of introduction, seek out Cinderland. You wonâ€™t be let down.