Rather than just relying on echoed synth stabs or reverb-drenched reggae samples, the Earthen Sea variety of dub builds from a foundation of sustained, morphing drones and swells.
I was at work, fighting back the email threatening to take over my life like electronic kudzu, when the promo pack for Jacob Long’s next release as Earthen Sea hit the Igloo mailbox. I idly clicked “play” and let the album unspool through the headphones as I hacked away; when the lush, shifting washes of the closing track “Also An Act Of Love” died out I immediately started over again with “The Present Mist.” And once more after that, until I had nearly achieved the mythical “Inbox Zero” status, all the office lights had gone out around me, and I’d fallen in love with the album.
Indeed, the emptied-out towerblock office and gridded array of streetlights out my window might have been exactly the setting Long had in mind. “An idea that was also central to my thoughts while creating the album was the concept and reality of being out in the city at night, wandering around a large urban area after dark – the contrast of empty streets but with life still going on all around,” he writes. It’s a compelling vision; one that’s easy to share as you make your way through the eight tracks that make up An Act of Love. Tonally, they alternate between beatless ambient tracks like the aforementioned bookends to the album, and a propulsive, trance-inducing variety of dub techno as on “About that Time” and “The Flats, 1975.” Both styles are superbly well-crafted, but it’s the upbeat numbers that make this outing special.
Rather than just relying on echoed synth stabs or reverb-drenched reggae samples, the Earthen Sea variety of dub builds from a foundation of sustained, morphing drones and swells. “About that Time” thumps out a four-on-the-floor kick/hat house beat but overlays a wistful acoustic piano line on top. “Exuberant Burning” confounds the genre’s expectations by matching slow, oceanic washes with an energetic doubled-up kick and distant rimshots. One of my favorite moments on the album is Long bringing the beat back after a tension-building hiatus in this track’s midsection. “The Flats, 1975” dives straight in with a tech-house beat and bassline front and center in the mix, but it’s the movement and development in the backing tracks that elevate this work above your average banger.
Of the ambient pieces, a few feel more like interludes than fully-developed tracks. “Above the Clouds” is less than a minute long, presenting some reversed chords which don’t particularly develop into anything. “Delicately in the Sunlight” burbles and chimes like a manipulated doorbell, and the distant pads of “Apparent Lushness” just hint at the texture the name implies rather than clobber you over the head with their lushness. They’re nice enough, especially in the hacker mindset where I need all the rough edges of my audio material filed off, in order to not disturb the flow-state. But it’s the boom-tschack tracks that induce alpha wave head nodding and kept me coming back to the album.
Naturally, while I was writing this, another half-dozen emails came in saying there are more bugs that need squashing. I need inspiration; maybe it’s time to dig through the Earthen Sea back-catalog.
An Act of Love is available on Kranky.