Earthen Sea: An Act of Love (Kranky, 2017)
Many albums come out of trying and troubling experiences. An Act of Love is one of those albums. Jacob Long (Mi Ami), under his project Earthen Sea, brings a mix of shadowy ambience mixed with techno moments that reflect the most stressful year in Long’s life so far. In that catharsis, Long visualized walking around a city at night, with the empty, cavernous streets while life still permeates the inside of the numerous buildings all around. An Act of Love has a highly personal core to it, perhaps referencing the self-care one needs to take on when life crumbles around oneself. This is Long’s seventh album as Earthen Sea but his first on Kranky and a definite welcome to the label’s impressive list of artists. As the journey through the album progresses, the melancholia is evident but there is also a meditative aspect to it all as Long leads his listener through a turbulent soundscape of introspection.
“The Present Mist” begins with a deep, dense, nebulous cloudscape that breathes in and out as if to move closer and then withdraw. Warbling synths appear to come up over the cloudscape to bring some more depth and texture. It’s a piece that really sets the tone for the album and creates that sense of a beginning, with all the mystery involved in it. “About that Time” has a dub techno beat to it as drones float mysteriously in between the percussion. The mixture of the dub and ambient soundscapes really create a mysterious feel, like watching a club like atmosphere but hazy and in slow motion. Piano echoes in the cloudy swells of synths which have subtle changes and editions throughout. Layers build slowly and Long demonstrates that he is a patient composer, spinning hypnotic sonic tales. As the percussion peels away, drones float freely, ending “About that Time” with a contemplative moment.
“Delicately in the Sunlight” has a warm, deep drone as a floor with a light static overlay and bright synth notes punctuating that static. It’s a brief composition, clocking in at 3:07, but it is beautifully spellbinding. The bright synths almost have a Rhodes quality to them and while there is a basic pattern, it varies enough to create a sense of wonder to it. “Apparent Lushness” begins with a similar drone as “Sunlight” but has a deeper rumble added to it, creating a very different feel. There is a starkness here, an emptiness as Long evokes a spaciousness and a soundscape with no boundaries. Rather than enveloping the listener, this one opens up a horizon of the unknown.
“Exuberant Burning” has thumping bass and sci-fi synth surges. This is a return to a subtler dub beat as the beats feel more a part of the flow of the drones and sound rather than as a foil to them. Cymbals chime here and there among the beats, shimmering against the flowing tide of ambient static. The organic sounding drums have an almost jazz feel against the freeform backdrop. “Above the Clouds” is a 52-second interlude that has backward-tracked synths that are bright. This short composition leads into “The Flats 1975” with a club beat pounding the speakers over a gleaming drone. The track is entrancing in its repetition, playing on both the repetitive roots of ambient music and dub. Again, given the title, there is a feel here of a smoky club with lights glimmering and dancing about but in a hazy slow motion. Perhaps, too, this brings nostalgia to the fore for listeners, experiencing parties in one’s youth amid a dark, late evening in the city. “Also an Act of Love” is seamlessly presented from the prior track as it peels away the percussion. Here, fuzzy drones drift from speaker to speaker and a repeating, swelling sound permeates the boundaries of the drone. Eventually, the synths subtly morph over the course of the piece and static punctuates the soundscape at regular intervals. It’s a beautiful end to a primarily introspective album.
An Act of Love is a demonstration that difficulties can, indeed, produce great art. Long evokes many emotions throughout his exploration in formlessness, bringing the listener on a journey that is both contemplative and expansive. He utilizes long form drones and patience to draw the listener in while producing variations to provide an aural narrative. I highly recommend everyone grab a copy of An Act of Love, preferably on vinyl.
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