Monument Builders, the latest release from Loscil, drops the temperature. The arctic melodies have been caught in a blast of sub-zero air, while their dense, deep textures are recognizable signatures within the Canadian artists’ style. Scott Morgan’s icy, ambient-tinted textures hang from the electronic notes, glimmering like a covering of dawn frost.
You can’t blame everything on the weather, but you can apportion most of it to the current climate of fear, murder, isolation and self-destruction. Loscil prefers a cooler approach, but something else is causing this cold spell. The album was largely created in Morgan’s century-old home in Vancouver, and while the disintegrating tones and failing pitches have been influenced by the mothering atmosphere, they’ve been influenced by other things, too – specifically an old VHS copy of the American experimental film Koyaanisqatsi, the anti-humanist writings of philosopher John Gray, and the aerial photography of Edward Burtynsky, the latter of which shines a light on the toxic effects of pollution and environmental destruction. Add these things together and the record becomes a sober spirit. The music turns a deeper shade of blue, blinking away its optimism and becoming beautifully solemn as it contemplates its own mortality. The music’s draining the colour out of the face, turning it pale and unresponsive and leaving behind a red tide in its wake. It’s going through a cold snap, but it’s still breathing; in fact, the colder temperatures highlight the breath, making it clearer than it’s ever been before, appearing as a concentrated cloud of condensation.
Monument Builders was born and put together during such a cold snap, at a time when friends and family members were experiencing their own physical struggles and enduring illnesses. The music pays tribute to this fight, because in spite of the pain, the notes are constantly progressing, brave and resolute in their enduring love while in the midst of a terrible struggle themselves. The notes give off a cold, dense chill, hypnotic in their cycles and repetitive, steel-smooth frameworks. This is the lo-fi sound: music enveloped in the crackles and pops of disintegration, of tonal erasure through constant decay. There’s a temporary rubbing out of the self as the negative emotions start to sprout like toxic weeds; the music grows introspective and quiet, as if it needs time alone. The sound is a deep, contemplative thought arriving from a confused and lost area of the mind. Through lo-fi, the music itself turns to scattered ash, reflecting a smouldering environment as well as the venomous corruption of the climate. The music is more pessimistic than it used to be, but it’s really realistic. Tired-sounding horns and harmonies are washed in waves of fatigue. The decay is a stark reminder of impermanence.
Monument Builders grapples with mortality and massacre, a dangerous instability within the fragile order of all things. The music is stark and the punch has to strike at the gut in order for it to be an effective wake-up call, because much of the world is still fast asleep. As a warning, it blares louder than any siren. Some of the sounds are sinister, like in ‘Straw Dogs’, while others are pale souls drifting through the torched remains of an old hometown during the apocalypse. The slower tempo invites you to become more mindful of the space.
The music is like a bird’s-eye-view of a place ravaged by an outbreak of war. Not a cold war – one that sets the sky on fire. Smoky plumes sail across the sky as the process of deforestation grips the music. Trees are being slaughtered on the orders of the government. The chainsaws and drills are dissonant instruments that highlight an absence of respect. Nature is being evicted, and her inhabitants shriek and cry, becoming the latest in a long line of refugees who have no choice but to flee an unwanted conflict; an endless cycle that begins with a dull ache and ends in a sharp blade of pain. Is hope really a weakness – a safety net, a coping mechanism, a chain? Or is it a sign of strength? Whatever it is, it’s the only thing that we have left. The reclaiming weeds are the only things that survive, but at least they’re still there. And so, the album closes on a bittersweet note, walking over the cracks in the pavement, ticking like an old metronome that has lost its time, swaying between destruction and revival. The higher notes are like aerial shots, spreading seeds that populate new areas in the sound and filling the music with the emergence of new life. As long as you’re breathing, there’s more right with you than there is wrong, I guess.