Review of Below Sea Level [12k1071]

Wajobu (US)

Simon Scott has given us a great gift—finding music in nature, while the rest of the World is flashing by. <i>Below Sea Level</i> is not only an expansive work of academic and historic significance, but it captures the feeling and sounds of being in and near the Fens of East Anglia, UK. The work often abstracts the literal and produces a sense of contemplative reverence for an area that has endured great and tragic changes since the 17th Century, due to ill-advised human intervention over nature.

I have been fortunate to explore some parts of this region (as far north as Stiffkey—both farm and fen). Taylor Deupree’s 12k record label has assembled this beautiful work including a deluxe edition (CD, illustrated hardbound journal, inked sketch by Scott and a 34 minute live recording download). I recommend purchasing this edition, though the CD alone is a fine alternative and is also beautifully packaged.

Below Sea Level is clearly an exploration with some very personal roots and memories, “Over the two years I visited the Fens to record, my childhood memories were reawakened and I realised as I explored a landscape that was personal to me, but contained unfamiliar and hidden acoustic details.”, writes Scott. With each track, the listener is taken ever-deeper into this mysterious landscape.

“__Sealevel.1” is almost as if eyes open from a dream, and we are in the Fens, first observing from the outside before entering. The birds, insects, water underneath, and the drifting breezes fill the vision, as a lone electric guitar is the beacon for the marvelous journey. “Other treatments and electronics weave their way into the flora and fauna.

“__Sealevel.2” rises as of the morning sun, geese fly overhead and the fabric of the environmental and instrumental sounds is woven deftly and seamlessly. The attention to the production of this work is so masterful that it is often difficult to discern where the natural and synthetic begin and end. Water filters through, rhythmic buzzing and guitar arpeggios mesh together with ambient sounds and avian denizens. As this piece closes, first there is a building drone of sound and then it subsides into a hint of acoustic guitar.

“__Sealevel.3” begins in the visceral depths (low frequencies) with birds aloft overhead. It’s the feeling of pushing deeply into the unknown of the mysterious Fens of peat while getting lost in the droning electronics and deep rumbling and distorted guitar before reemerging.

“__Sealevel.4” is near the water, at the edges and down low. The instrumentation is reminiscent of flowing water weeds and marsh grasses as they pass by on the journey, ever-deeper into the marshland.

“__Sealevel.5” begins with the shrill and mystical and then a return to an identifiable acoustic guitar theme, which to me, appears as the human element observing the landscape, before being absorbed again back into the sounds of the surroundings. The memories of Scott’s childhood seem to filter in with a short passage from a music box before fading.

“__Sealevel.6” is dense with an almost sensory overload of sound; the layered and diverse gives a sense of the incredible simultaneous activity occurring even in this natural landscape.

__Sealevel.7 closes the work with a calming and melodic aquatic voyage, flowing slowly and soon returning to the ambient sounds of insects above the water that inhabit this expansive other-worldly realm.

In an era where the artist and their works are often undervalued (file-sharing, Spotify and the utter drivel being released by many of the corporate record labels), it is so heartening to see, yet again, an independent record label such as 12k paying tribute to a work such as this. Simon Scott has produced in <i>Below Sea Level</i> an authentic, thoughtful and informative work that is a real treat to behold and explore.

View Release