Albums of the Decade: Murcof – Cosmos (Leaf, 2007)


The exploration of space within Ambient has a storied history that in many ways predates the genre itself thanks to Progressive Electronic and Krautrock experiments through the 70s, but it was only in the later developments of Dark Ambient that space was really given its brooding, fear-laden and menacing side. Yet for all the crushing emptiness, many forgot to be truthful and include some sense of sporadic oases in the cold dark, and it’s in this way that Murcof’s Cosmos rises to the top of the pile as being not just one of the most dramatic space influenced records out there, but also one of the more balanced.

This balance is what makes the behemothic 13 minute closer “Oort” such an accurate and engaging powerhouse, casting us into the black with nothing but a tantalising shimmer of drone airs for company out beyond the known reaches of space, inhabited by castigated remnants of solar formation, tumbling hunks of ice and rock who see the Sun from such distance that it appears as just another star. These piano tinkling gems in the void are the source of most of our comets though, and in the pummeling vibrations of the overwhelming organ blasts we’re reminded of the danger these far flung fragments possess to the fragile existence of the inner system planets, cacophonic walls of sheer terror should these motes ever find their disruptive way home. The plaintive violins that linger in the blistered air in the second half are welcome hushings to ease our concerns at the infinitesimal odds of such an event though.

Its mid-album reference “Cometa” holds none of fear you’d expect though, this deeply electronica laden, largely Techno driven piece mostly succumbing to mindless repetitive melancholia, its skittering bleeps and ancient piano excitations buzzing with a jaded misery as it passes around the Sun once again. A spectacle perhaps for Earth-bound viewers but a bleak continuum for this orbitally trapped Hadean echo.

Appropriately it finds itself sandwiched by the album’s mainstay suite of “Cosmos I” and “Cosmos II”, the infinite aether of suspension. Both start with a creeping, darkling atmosphere built on collapsed drone lines and tar black organ swells before rising to tortured heights in sweeping crescendos of impenetrable scale. “I” feels a bit more alluring, its thick mire of sucking blackness filled with an insatiable curiosity in the face of the infinite unknown, its peak so vast and complexly textured that no volume level will satisfy the consumptive power of the vacuum in the same way the Universe will never be known in its totality. “II” on the other hand feels the true weight of that realisation, its capacious Blade Runner-esque slow builds transmuting into a terrified expanse of burning orchestration that reels at the scale of the space in textural overload, the mind resisting such vastness.

Perhaps it’s best that we just live like “Cielo”, its stringed croonings and bleary vocals gazing out at the night sky and simply consuming it for its face value; a glittering vista of untouchable darkness that’s visited afresh only by each new generation of humans that looks out upon it, consistently and perhaps fortunately unable to be reached by people who are to be kept instead within Earth’s safe and homely throes.

Just like the Universe it echoes, Cosmos swings between a depressingly empty void to overwhelmingly active pockets of material and life expressed with impossible grandeur and consumptive scale. Murcof’s swathes of orchestrally influenced Dark Ambient and Techno are simply effortless affairs that will just as often lull you with fragile emptiness as blow you away in diametrical obliterations; this is quintessential space listening that lends the same weight to the void as well as its tiny, sprinkled inhabitants.