Sunday, November 1, 2009

In Sea - Aarktica

In Sea

Silber Records.

SCQ Rating: 78%

To say In Sea is ideal listening for facing the notion of enormity, what with its epic-sized guitars and romantic ambience, perhaps best describes the work of Aarktica. After all, few could doubt the chilling grace that permeates, shifts and occasionally cracks these glacial studies of tone, which in their humble build or collapse bring to mind far-reaching horizons and barren landscapes. Yet to pontificate any which way Aarktica should be heard comes attached with a giant asterisk as its author, Jon DeRosa, doesn’t hear his records the way we do. Having suffered permanent, near-total hearing loss in his right ear due to nerve damage, DeRosa’s tale is a unique one; beginning with No Solace In Sleep, a recording that survived aural hallucinations and painkiller-addiction, Aarktica’s discography has been a battle for sound – first re-experiencing it, then exploring its new parameters.

Yet when I looked up his Myspace page, the first track I heard was ‘Seventy Jane’; a near-perfect pop track of new-wave vocals and chiming guitar. I’ve revisited that Matchless Years track several times since, each time finding another detail worth hearing on my headphones, but its indie-rock swagger seemed to void DeRosa’s painful back-story as if his hearing loss hadn’t prevented him from playing ball with everyone else. In Sea changes that; blurring the obvious pop hooks that sought to classify him and re-approaching his passion for tonal studies with a veteran’s wisdom, DeRosa has delivered what is being hailed as a return-to-form album by Aarktica fans. ‘I Am (The Ice)’ casts a frozen establishing shot for DeRosa’s guitar-work, peppering tense, processed strums against clouds of edgeless, warm tones. Its effect, both unnerving and calming, sums up the widescreen vibe of In Sea as a whole, stepping into deep layers of guitar structures that circle or swell in subtle patterns (‘Instill’, the title track). Better yet, DeRosa has incorporated tricks learned from his post-No Solace In Sleep shoegaze efforts, bringing bittersweet riffs to ‘Onward!’’s encroaching heaviness and welcome, moody vocals to album-highlight ‘Hollow Earth Theory’. While these restrained pop flourishes are sporadic and spread-out (only two cuts feature vocals), their post-punk feel provide enough pulse to jolt In Sea from its still-life crawl.

While Aarktica has proven capable of competing with any shoegaze band that can hear in stereo, DeRosa’s battle to understand sound has transformed his condition – which, in this art, should’ve been considered a handicap – into an advantage. Finding emotional details in minimal arrangements, In Sea is a homecoming for ambient-drone enthusiasts… a group that no doubt finds DeRosa at the front of the pack.

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