As a (former) Geology student, the Isle of Arran in Scotland has been somewhere that I’ve fortuitously found my way to several times in the course of my studies; without getting boring it’s a terrific place to find a really amazing array of rocks that span nearly the complete history of Britain, but it also happens to be an incredibly beautiful part of the world on top of that. I was lucky enough to spend a whole 7 weeks there in 2013 (something that I suspect notably reduced my output here during that period), but it only took Fraser McGowan one week to fall in love with this quiet and isolated little gem, and so inspired was he by the holiday he had there that he devoted 6 months of his life to creating this record, an ode to the calmness and peacefulness he experienced there and an attempt to bottle that memory so as to never forget.
The beauteous opener “On Lochranza Shores” is perhaps the embodiment of this unerring peace and soothing quiet; populated by the soft dribblings of streams and rivulets and gentle birdsong it’s a deliciously transportative piece, returning my mind’s eye to this sleepy little village and its rocky shores. Sensuous drone lines slowly waft through the mix to give the track a little propulsion also but not necessarily pushing it into any particular direction, before allowing a few guitar pickings to creep in nearer the end as the short days draw in and force us to retreat indoors from this lush but dimming environment. “Your Absent Breath” is perhaps the only other track truly comparable to the gorgeous opener, but seems to retain some of the darkness that is introduced in some of the intermediary tracks; it’s filled with a rich drone fuzz to supplement the exceedingly luxurious field recordings, thrumming with the rush of wind through a myriad of trees and over the ripples of the nearby ocean, invoking a vast sense of space through its texturally dense but implicitly simple sound. It seems to come through as a tantalising memory, with soft synth noodlings and infrequent guitar chords creeping out of the mix with fondness but acting almost unnecessarily in my opinion, somehow polluting the innocence and minimalism of the introspection.
There is a certain dark longing possessed in most of the other pieces; “Wreaths” catches the rain in the evening time, the incessant rush of pattering water fading into an endless wall of textural noise in the backfield and assisted along by glittering synth turnings looped over one another to keep the music turning in restless and repetitive energy, unable to sleep for the close worldly sounds around us. A little synth line makes itself known a way in like a heartbeat, a coldly beating loop circling endlessly in the dark as we wait patiently for the weather to subside so we can stop hearing the blood rush through our ears and fall into comforting sleep. “Our Own Loch View” is the only piece to feel urgent and palpably anxious, its walls filled with flanging synth movements and a consistently energetic lo-fi haze of static; the only respite we gain comes from slow and echoic piano turnings that help soothe our running mind, the slow majesty of the landscape calming our nerves and eradicating life’s woes with the worriless view we’re presented with.
There’s a hint of that bleakness in closer “Often Nowhere” also; comprised largely of thin and haunting electronica, some remnant drone fuzz and glitch stutters that seems to unwind uncomfortably again as the album begins to approach its end, the same strifes that were eased away make themselves known again in the creeping isolation of this closing piece, the island disappearing over our shoulder on the boat home and a return to reality beckoning. In one last effort it closes its eyes and summons some of those memories back up to push that awkward electronic discomfort back and disappear into the calm, soothing nothingness of the drone smear as the curtains fall.
I’ve visited some beautiful places in the world but I know all too well the powerful and overwhelming peaceful isolation that Arran possesses, and I can’t wait to see its distinctive profile from the ferry again this Summer, to rescale its peaks and rewalk its familiar shores once more; I suppose for the time being I’m just going to have to keep listening to this record in the meanwhile and dream.