Review: Loscil/Lawrence English – “Colours of Air”

The music of Loscil, the nom-de-guerre of the ingenious, Vancouver-based sound sculptor Scott Morgan, tends to inspire verbose prose. On Loscil’s new LP with composer Lawrence English, the PR team at Kranky Records talks about “Yellow” — each track herein is named for the hue the piece seems to suggest – as a “gauzy levitational miasma.” “Violet” is a “pulsing melancholic mirage.” “Magenta” is a “seething twilit sandstorm.” “Morgan and English are both adept at conjuring moods of muted grandeur,” Kranky writes, “like landscapes veiled in dusk, still looming and luminous.”

The funny thing is, we’ve got to cop to it here, they’re right. On Colours of Air, an eight-composition offering, Morgan and English take recordings of a century old pipe organ from the historic Old Museum in Brisbane, Australia, and make them wholly other. The sounds were processed, transformed, and, yes, elevated, creating what’s been dubbed “electro-acoustic threshold devotionals.” During lulls – they are here, but not always readily apparent – the worst you could say is that the work focuses perhaps too overtly on texture instead of heat. But, in the best of times, and there are many of those, it’s breathtaking gossamer. In short, what these two composers manage to do with drones and faux-drones is simply sublime.

The songs, whose four- to eight-minute running times are just the right size of bite, are less narrative-driven than much of Loscil’s catalog. There are familiar Morgan touches, which is welcoming for the dedicated fan; the foreboding pulse at the end of album opener “Cyan,” for example, is reminiscent of Loscil’s Sea Island. But the pieces fit in with Morgan’s recent efforts to distance his work from the “score for an imaginary film” category into something more Structuralist, more about shape and, yes, color.

Again, the pieces inspire lofty phrasings and colorful poesy. On “Aqua,” it seems at one point like we are listening to the breathing of angels. “Pink,” at its darkest, is practically subterranean. “Violet,” with its metered tones and high-pitched “vocal” line, almost seems to suggest a streak of violence around the corner, something deep and menacing with which one shouldn’t toy. The fact that Morgan and English can muster this from some mutated pipe organ samples is brilliant.

Low points? Sure, not everyone can appreciate a good drone. And pieces like the muted but morbid “Black,” which runs nearly to nine minutes, occasionally can feel a little long in the tooth. But for every “Black” on the LP – okay, really, there’s one – there’s a “Magenta,” which is rife with big, midnight sounds and big ideas. “Magenta” closes the proceedings, teetering on menace but less threatening than it is inviting; it begs you to keep listening.

For all the brilliant colors on display, I find myself on repeated listening going back to “Grey.” On it, something resembling a synth wash is repeatedly interrupted by a subtle bass drum kick, and winds whip and lash in the background. It’s a bizarre little trip and illustrates just how far from the source material these guys are willing to venture to explore a zeitgeist. “Here [Morgan’s and English’s] combined powers open pathways to heightened realms of deep listening and bewitching restraint, finding flickering infinities in ancient configurations of wind, brass, stone, and dust,” the Kranky document concludes. I couldn’t have said it better myself. For the right set of ears, this collaboration is long overdue and, for the steady Loscil follower, lives up to often lofty expectations. — Justin Vellucci, Spectrum Culture, Feb. 9, 2023


About the author

Justin Vellucci is a staff writer for PopMatters, Spectrum Culture, and MusicTAP, a contributor to Pittsburgh Current, and a former staffer for Popdose, Punk Planet and Delusions of Adequacy. His music writing has appeared in national magazines such as American Songwriter, alt-pubs like The Brooklyn Rail, Pittsburgh CityPaper and San Diego CityBeat, blogs Swordfish, Punksburgh and Linoleum, and the Gannett magazine Jetty. He lives in Pittsburgh.