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Review: Loscil – Coast/Range/Arc (2011)

Loscil – Coast/Range/Arc (2011)

This album exemplifies a minimal music genre, so I will spend some time explaining to readers how I came to appreciate music of this type. I do this in the hope that they might be interested in diving in after me if they haven't already.

The first real "favorite band" I ever had was The Moody Blues, starting in the late 80s. For about 10 years, I would describe them to people as being my favorite. During that time, my taste in music started to branch out as I gained exposure to more kinds of music. At one point in the late 90s when Internet Radio was just starting up, I found a channel called "Cryosleep - Zero Beats Guaranteed". I couldn't imagine why someone would want to listen to music without beats at the time. I thought of Classical music as a different animal, as it still had clear rhythmic structures, and is a showcase for the skills of orchestras in playing it and in conductors interpreting it. But if I was going to listen to something not intended for concert halls, dammit I wanted some rhythms. This stuff was what is referred to now as "Drone Ambient", and it just made no sense to me at the time.

Many years later, in about 2005, through a strange set of happenstances I came across Biosphere's Substrata, which became the first beatless ambient album I listened to in full. Coming to understand this album opened up a new genre of music to me, which I started exploring. The Moody Blues like to layer their music very deeply. Often there are 2 or 3 (or even more) overdubbings of the lead guitarist making a tapestry of melodies and counterpoints. Drone Ambient recordings are much more sparse in terms of the number of elements present, but when done well still have great depth in their texturing. It came as a surprise to me that I could enjoy such minimalist compositions. But looking back on it, it makes sense because much of the music I listened to including The Moody Blues had a lot of focus on texturing as well as rhythm and melody composition.

When people I know are curious about Drone Ambient, Loscil's monumental Coast/Range/Arc is what I point them to as a starting point. Not because it's any more easily accessible than other works in this genre, but because of the sheer quality of the music on it. Every one of the six tracks is unique, yet it's clear that they all belong together.

The title refers to the Coast Range Arc, which was a large volcanic system on the west coast of the US and Canada. Each track is named for a location, and suggests the slow pace at which mountains change when compared with the timescale of our lives. Appropriately for its subject, there are no recognizable human voices in it: just rich soundscapes loaded with overtones. The album can be previewed at this link:

As an example, I'll just describe the opener, "Black Tusk". It fades in with a fully-formed super-dense chord that almost sounds foggy. As an accent, there's a subtle bit of patchy white noise floating over it. Over the course of 10 minutes, the chord subtly changes, and a thin strand of slowly rising and falling sound weaves its way through it. And then it fades out. This is one of the best tracks I have in my entire collection, yet there's little to describe; it's something you just have to experience to understand.

There are several distinct moods on the album, including "mysterious", "wondrous", "ominous" and "calm". My personal favorites are Black Tusk and Goat Mountain, which are the "mysterious" and "calm" entries. I highly recommend this album if you're a veteran of ambient electronic music as a composition of genius in the field. If you're new to this area of music composition, give it a try; it might open up new vistas for you.


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