James Murray’s latest Drone expanse lays its themes and intentions on the front step with its title, The Sea In The Sky, an interesting slant on the perception of the atmospheric ocean that sits above our heads and the dynamic processes and phenomena that we might also find with our liquid equivalents. The currents and storms and other comparable occurrences that hint at some curious mirror are somewhat absent here though in my mind; whilst this could be a record filled with strength and power and energised sound, Murray paints heavy and cumbersome pictures through his drone brushes, the processed guitars and bass all proceeding slowly with a meagre evolution that doesn’t befit the conceptual devices at hand.
There are moments here that don’t seem out of place and use that huge and majestic space effectively though, in fact we witness it straight away in the heady opener “Altitude” as its drones chug quietly away across its great span, this deeply restrained atmosphere flexing its power as we rise through impossible heights beyond the depths of the liquid oceans, a lifeless darkness extending to limitless altitudes above us whilst our brave and precious Earth falls away below. There’s a winking menace in that fearful height in the hovering tones and slow, repetitive oscillations that unravel here, a darkness hidden behind the fragile surficial beauty. It does its task well, as does the ensconcing textures of “Settle”: here we find ourselves suspended in quivering drone masses and buzzing guitar processings, a light and seemingly insubstantial haze of lingering grey obfuscation, a quietly descending mass of developing cloud and fog that wraps and smothers the Earth below with ominous ease. Murray’s methodical and elongate constructions clearly work best in these appropriately mysterious and unhurried movements while the other pieces here feel a little underwhelming and even stagnant.
“Then Dissolve” is “Settle”‘s logical counterpart and the album closer and is almost as close from a conceptually relevant standpoint, though it feels content to languish in stale and overriding beds of dry and uncommunicative drone, broken erratically and unconvincingly by miscellaneous electronic shufflings that attempt to poke holes through the entrenched mist. Seemingly incapable of doing so, these shufflings fall away to leave the drones in the clear in its final throes before simply losing cohesion and fading to black; most of the tracks here also end somewhat strangely, as though some tether is reached where it’s not sensible to have them continue any further. The titular track may be the best example of this as it loses its discordant and skittering electronica to a noiseless and serene drone cruise in its last moments, the distant guitar drone swells that were previously lost like clouds in the backfield returning to the fore after the processed precipitates have exhausted themselves. “Hollows” is no better either, its clearly acoustic drones shifting like rigid plates over one another, inflexible bodies of sustained sound that slowly recycle themselves in sullen tidal motions with little reflection of the power and activity caught up within its subject.
Everything feels so cripplingly uneventful that by the end it seems silly to have ever compared the sky’s barely changing exterior to the harsh salty dynamism of the sea and its rapidly changing surface. Without the aforementioned exceptions this would be rather tiresome to listen to, and even with them I feel like the message here is somehow lost and diluted in how unenthusiastic the record feels about attempting some sense of evolution and activity to live up to its namesake, which is a tremendous shame since his other record this year Loss will certainly end up high on the list come December. Suspenseful and rich for sure, but not totally convincing in my eyes.