Below Sea Level
SCQ Rating: 80%
Simon Scott’s first release on the 12K imprint deserves mention firstly for being his most personal. Below Sea Level is the culmination of two years the former Slowdive drummer spent visiting the Fens marshland in eastern England – a spot both agriculturally controversial and sentimental to Scott’s childhood – to track field recordings and expose the musicality of his memories. The results lay as the backbone to these seven tracks, over which Scott blurred guitar and synthesizer, in real time, during his stays there.
As well as representing Scott’s childhood and ancestral ties, Below Sea Level proves a remarkable merger of purely organic soundscapes and leftfield electronics; in short, because it’s often difficult to dissect which is which. Tracks two and three (note: each track is numerical as sequenced) bleed like reedy drones under the wavering of looping harmonics and swathes of digital backwash. But just as often, Scott steps back from the ambient tussle and lets the landscape speak back in birdcalls, amphibian croaks, water ripples, and nearby machinery. The reality of Scott’s location causes a virtual standstill during track four, overwhelming any traditional song-form, whereas it weaves a bubbling catharsis into track seven’s celestial electronics. Best yet are the tracks where Scott fingerpicks some guitar into the aural scenery, providing bucolic timbres of psychedelia that are simple but inspiring.
To those few listeners aware of the territory’s conflicted history, Below Sea Level will likely plumb deeper emotional depths but even oblivious fans should ascribe to the record’s stark and seasonal affinity. In some cases, Scott seems to be playing for the present moment, merely coexisting with a complicated patch of nature. In its most satisfying moments, however, Below Sea Level sounds like a poignant farewell.