Earthen Sea - An Act of Love
Jacob Long aka Earthen Sea has been weaving shadows into audial tapestries of viscous, iridescent ambience and fathomless Dub Techno for just over a decade. His debut full-length, 2015's magnificently murky Ink, was a dreamquest into exploratory infratronics, masterfully rendered in 50 shades of greyscale; a record that d(r)ubbed, drifted and disintegrated but never once dragged. Its dense, overcast atmospherics epitomised the caliginous aesthetic of ex-bandmate Ital's Lovers Rock imprint, but given that by Long's own admission, follow-up An Act of Love was created during the most emotionally difficult and stressful year of his life thus far, it is perhaps understandable that he opted to burn a bridge or two and sign to long-running outpost of the outré and outlandish Kranky.
On first listen, An Act of Love washes little in the way of new flotsam onto Earthen Sea's desolate shores. Beatless pieces (often nothing more than parabolas of inchoate noise that slowly coalesce into stately dirges) are punctuated by salvos of tactile Dub Techno that seem to strain to maintain forward motion. Pay close attention though, and there's a hitherto absent, almost grungy depth to these tracks that undoubtedly echoes the mental distress Long was experiencing during their composition. The titles too are loaded with the sort of ambiguity (false optimism may be more accurate) that suggests an attempt at exorcising demons too powerful to be cast out by mere creativity alone.
Opening ambient cut The Present Mist sounds as though it may reference the low cloud of heart-crushing but impermanent nostalgia that invariably accompanies the severing of long-standing ties. Its oppressive opacity, however, would be a fitting soundtrack to the closing paragraphs of Poe's The Fall of the House of Usher; a chilling exposition on the escape-proof inevitability of doom. About That Time which follows offers respite in the form of a breathtaking plunge into deep water Dub Techno. Kick drums thud like the quickening heartbeat of a famished orca as it pursues its quarry into a submarine echo chamber of panicked whalesong but the outcome of the chase is frustratingly obscured by a subsuming flux of aquamarine synth-swell.
Delicately in the Sunlight and Apparent Lushness are arguably the album's most glaring misnomers. The former could conceivably be an amplified field recording of the petulant grinding of day's premolars as dusk insists it give way to night, while the latter luxuriates in lagoons of slowly congealing magma, the cooling, crusted end product of some distant volcanic eruption. Intentional or not, this is supranatural new age music that murders meditation and opens wounds rather than healing them.
Exuberant Burning is less a fulsome flare up than a dying of Dub Techno's light. Perhaps acknowledging the finite nature of the genre in spite of its recent resurgence, the beats sound hollow and fitful like the last crackling embers of an abandoned beach campfire being washed into silence by the encroaching tide. Following jagged ambient vignette Above The Clouds, The Flats 1975 offers yet more ambiguity. Are the flats in question of the high rise variety or tracts of featureless mud? My guess is the former but since the tune itself gives no clue as to their nature, one is left to make deductions from Also an Act of Love into which it segues. A morose assemblage of intertwining tones, it evokes fading memories embedded in the peeling wallpaper of an apartment earmarked for imminent demolition. It's a harrowing piece, but then I strongly suspect the album as a whole was never going to be the work of emotional catharsis Jacob Long may have envisioned when he began work on it.
You'll hear few albums this year that will make the same demands on your soul as An Act of Love. I bet Shakespeare thought something similar when he'd written the final tragic scenes of Romeo and Juliet.
8/10 after 15 listens