Review of Below Sea Level [12k1071]

Brainwashed (US)

The underlying concept on <i>Below Sea Level</i> is Simon Scott’s study of the fens in East Angila, a bit of formerly marshy land that he visited many times in his youth. Utilizing hydrophones and other home made recording devices, Scott captures the sound both around and below sea level (hence the title) and processes it into an often unrecognizable, but nonetheless fascinating world of sound that conveys the nostalgic feelings Simon intended to.

The recordings were then heavily processed and effected via DSP, resulting in the swirling, slightly disjointed but completely effective ambience of “_Sealevel.3” and the slightly sinister splashes of dissonance that arise on “_Sealevel.6” which eventually comes together to resemble the sound of 1990s shoegaze dissembled into its most rudimentary components.

Guitar also appears sporadically, usually in the form of identifiable, but filtered, plucked notes that become the focus of whatever track they show up on. “_Sealevel.1”, perhaps the most sparse piece here, puts the clear, resonating notes with the sounds of nature around, creating an intimate, personal feel that is struck down when the lower-end noise and dissonance kicks in later on.

Consistent throughout are field recordings of the fens, but not in the traditional sense: the music was played via speakers and then re-recorded with the natural surrounding ambience, providing a very different character to an otherwise well-used sonic technique. Rather than sounding like one piece of a more complex composition, instead the bird songs and foliage rustling feels like a natural and integral bit of ambience that ties the album together.

Not to overly draw comparisons and parallels, but Scott’s use natural, marshy ambience and occasionally overt guitar is reminiscent of some of Fennesz’s best work, especially with “_Sealevel.4″‘s staticy, vintage-laden effects. They have a similar, though still different sense of pleasant nostalgia and hazy, humid summer evenings of years gone by.

The use of heavily layered, processed sounds and unidentifiable environments mixed with familiar ones give <i>Below Sea Level</i> a distinctly unique feel that is an oddly intense album. The feeling is pretty laconic and relaxed, but the sheer amount of layering and manipulation on make it almost overwhelming at times, but it never becomes too much, and instead becomes just the right level of complexity. Simon Scott clearly is working with gentle ambience, but in such a way that it demands attention, never fading into the background like the work of less capable artists. Below Sea Level is also available with a lush, 80 page hardcover book of photographs and essays by Simon on the topic of the fens, fleshing out the themes and imagery greatly.

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