Albums of the Decade: Loscil – Plume (Kranky, 2006)


Like all of Scott Morgan’s releases over the past 15 years, Plume finds itself exploring deeply thematic territory, entrenching itself in sonic ground built around a particular topic of exploration. Water and states of matter have been regular themes through his discography and Plume finds itself in the convergence point of both; whilst perhaps not as openly dripping as its well received successor Endless Falls, nor as thermodynamically constrained as debut Triple Point, it nonetheless finds a nice balance in its meandering and slightly untethered nine pieces.

The most direct references to the enigmatic and elusive aether that surrounds us fall in the windy pieces “Mistral” and “Chinook”, named phenomena that have a strange force despite our inability to see them with our own eyes. “Chinook” lives up to its reputation as the “ice-eater”, a warm and wet experience that gracefully unwinds in palatable xylophonic riffs, a lively number that whisks away the snow before our eyes with almost magical power in its cleansing warmth, whilst “Mistral” closes the album with a different tone that better suits its infamous nature. It’s drier, sleeker and more consistent, a slight sense of foreboding present in its heavier synth drones and rattling with an oddly Mediterranean clamour as we begin to see it begin to tickle shutter boards and wind-chimes.

Duets and companion pieces extend throughout other parts of the record too, notably in the distinctly more coastal “Zephyr” and “Halcyon”, both of which find themselves as unoriginal boat names the world over. The former, “Zephyr”, is one of the lighter tracks of the record, bobbing contentedly along in a tentative breeze of drone and soft, intermittent xylophones, evolving slowly with a tint of menace in its airs as piano summons more urgent advances. This threat of power even in the softest of winds is an ever-present feeling throughout much of the record, darkening many of the early tracks especially; the only piece truly immune is “Halcyon”, lost in its idyllic and unfettered synth drones, drifting pleasantly and peacefully along, its luxurious sustained tones and refractive twinklings mirroring the perfection of an untouched sky on a flawless day.

Elsewhere we really get lost in air given form, in particular the thin croonings of “Steam”. Light splashes of static rotate through the jaded drones and faint Rhodes piano movements and create a certain sense of erratic behaviour in the system despite its calming and deceptively quiescent exterior, a fluffy facade hiding an elemental chaos in its form. “Bellows” a little later on isn’t dissimilar, except for its brighter and more propulsive architecture; rather than the moodiness of “Steam” it has a certain industrious and empowered attitude about it, its reverb heavy sound sustaining effortless synth arpeggios and gently insistent percussive encouragement through impolite human machinations.

Those left are the mysterious and incompletely explained pieces in the aforementioned middleground; early “Rorschach” lulls the listener deeply into its hypnotic Ambient Techno trance, bobbing beats circling slowly in a curious darkness with mesmerising consistency. A slight sense of pressing agoraphobia begins to develop as it progresses, with thrumming guitar drones thickening the air like soup, the space between particles becoming an emulsion of sound with the assistant Rhodes piano and all its analogue kitsch, the listener suspended in it, made to feel aware of its invisible and continuous presence. The very air becomes dense and amniotic, a fundamental requirement for life as we know it, only reinforced by the penultimate masterpiece of “Charlie”. Made for his (at the time) unborn daughter after seeing her ultrasound, it’s a standout piece for its notably different construction as much as its perfect tension. Building on “Rorschach”‘s atmospheric drones it contorts guitars into thrillingly crooning drones, echoic xylophones pulsating through the life-blood with reassuring regularity, her heartbeat providing a subtle rhythm to the swirling developments all around, currents in the fluid like breezes through the air.

Plume is noncommittal, it’s happy to let the listener engage as they choose, let them fill in the gaps to the questions that it does or does not pose. The scope of the record’s theme is vast and done so effortlessly that the listener barely even notices, in much the same way we often don’t give the air around us much consideration. Gases we see and sometimes don’t see, that behave like water in some ways but drift with a decoherence and freedom in others, that fall within human control and without, that embrace and nurture us at all times yet bear down on us with imperceptible force. All of these thoughts are given an expression in Plume, but you might have to sit quiet to be rewarded.