Sundrugs – Low (BLWBCK, 2014)


I know that it’s something that I repeat often but I am something of a stickler when it comes to cohesion and consistent thematic devices across albums; it shouldn’t be something that irks me when these things are absent or inconsistently present throughout albums but one can’t help but feel a little, well, lost and confused with what an artist or what an album is trying to say across its breadth when we’re presented with mixed messages. Patryk Kawalarz’s sophomore LP under his Sundrugs moniker unfortunately seems to share many of the same problems as his debut; lots of gorgeous music to be found within but a flimsy guiding hand when it comes to the album’s core themes that causes it to exist in a state of disarray.

Despite Patryk’s minimalistic description of this album mentioning only that “it’s all about love and Warsaw at night”, Low feels more like an album about space exploration at times, of the awe in the face of technological advance. Tracks like the early album “Further” crush twisted fragments of warbled radio chatter against a bank of blinking and bleeping electronic instruments and buttons and lights, the entire entity suspended in a stellar void spinning out endless waves of bleak drone. “Espace N/A” takes something of a similar approach a little later on also, ensconcing us in its metallic and claustrophobic confines as it carves out abyssal, meaty drone movements and stuttering pulses of white noise, the only thing to keep us company in this bleak void the chittering of distal radio transmissions. These sentiments are compounded by “Somnolence Airlines” in the penultimate piece, a delicately cruising little number that sees our little spacecraft turn away from the dark expanse and point us toward Earth, it’s soft movements punctuated by flickers and glimmers of civilisation peeking out of the night below.

The other pieces here are less straightforward in their conceptual display, both in their mysterious titling as well as the music presented; “Cheating The Bats” is a grumbling Dark Ambient number that is deliciously sinuous and organic in its deep-rooted sub-bass drones and foaming static supplemented by wriggling synth lines, its deceptions remaining hidden until it troughs and summons walls of quelling noise. But it couldn’t be more at odds with “Billion of Light Years” [sic] that follows it, an incongruous exercise in fringe-Chillwave meanderings that spins out lightweight tuffets of tinkling synth and tambourines; despite its space-oriented namesake it couldn’t feel farther from the vistas that it supposedly is supposed to evoke. Similarly, “Let’s Can’t Sleep Together” unravels downtempo piano lines amidst shimmery synth pads, somewhat oddly placed between the stellar masses of “Espace” and “Somnolence”; simmering in regret and forlorn frequencies, is this an introspection into what we individually sacrifice in our pursuit of space? It’s an interesting, if not entirely well padded out, concept.

But the piece that has me perhaps more perplexed than any other in the context of this record is the expansive 21 minutes of closer “2082”; not only is it by far and away the best track of the album, it almost occupies half of the total runtime and raises the question of: why didn’t Patryk just make an album comprised entirely of this emotional behemoth? The entire span of this gorgeous epic feels disconnected and unsynchronised, a helpless and sole entity watching technological advancement pass by and simply allowing itself to get caught in the flow, summoning feelings of anxiety, listlessness and confusion across its saturated and endless ebbs and flows of distal, static coated drone. Wikipedia lists 2082 as being the year that’s predicted to be the first time the average person will be able to live on the Moon, and I like to think that’s what being brought forward here; a piece that marvels at the prospect, is fearful of the implications and yet is excited by the opportunity.

Whilst the more I thought about Hidden Scenes the less it seemed to reveal, the more I consider Low the more perplexed I seem to get; don’t get me wrong this is a stunning exercise in Dark Ambient music and “2082” may very well be one of the best singles of 2014 but there seems to be an indisputable disconnect between what I seem to get out of this album as compared to what Patryk has defined, or not as the case may be. Low feels like it’s on the cusp of being something genuinely meaningful but it’s disappointingly spoilt by inconsistency and inadequate guidance.