2016 marks 10 years from the time the world was first introduced to the music of The Green Kingdom (aka Michael Cottone). And 10 years on, Cottone’s had plenty of time to find different ways to explore his trademark blend of guitar and gentle electronic flourishes. With his latest album, Harbor, Cottone has refined his palette to create one of his most focused and charming albums to date. And for a guy who releases consistently strong material, that’s saying something.
“Inlet” opens things off with some gently strummed chords that are effects laden in such a way that the notes almost seem to float in, as if from nowhere, and then float off into eternity. Every sound from every source instrument/sound seems to blend to create the whole. In terms of how the various sounds at play are mixed, it’s some of the tightest mixing from Cottone ever- it’s as if all the instruments and sounds seem to be birthed from the same place and tentacle out from one another.
Second song “Harbor” is a completely different beast. Largely driven by guitar and live drums, it has a simple guitar driven charm not unlike something found in the work or Tortoise, Helios or Mogwai. But what links the first song to the second is that they share a similar feel.
And that’s the key to the album – tone. Harbor, is an album that has this almost tangibly bright quality to it. There’s something optimistic in the feel of the album, something that seems to invite the listener in.
One of Cottons’s trademarks is his use of guitar and indeed that plays a key role in that bright and inviting feel that pervades the album. The guitar work here is quite striking both the way it’s approached and the way it plays in the mix. “Thermals” and “Evergreen Sunset” contain some of the most stripped down guitar work in the Green Kingdom catalogue. Both songs almost feel like they were done in a single take with guitar and an amp. There is an ambience to both pieces that comes from hearing the hums and buzzes of the amp’s feedback left in the mix. Overall, it lends an immediacy and intimacy that carries out throughout the album even when the more processed moments are at work.
The electronic elements of the album tend to rely on a blend of almost floating/lilting ambience and gentle rhythmic percolations. Listening to Cottone play with these elements, he really feels like he’s crafting a new world with each piece – as if each song has it owns story to tell. Take the contrasting approach of back-to-back songs “Haze Layers” and “Faun (enchantedforestmix)”. “Haze Layers” gently builds on a series of rhythmic pulses before actually settling into a 4/4 beat – it’s a narrative that builds steam as it progresses. Conversely, “Faun…” is a piece that begins full and slowly decays, as if seeing something whole recede into it’s tentative origin parts. There’s a loss of orientation that comes with it, but still, even in the decay there’s warmth that continues to pervade. And in the context of Harbor, even decay isn’t a frightening thing – mysterious, yes, but never unwelcoming.
As a whole, Harbor, is a difficult album to write about – it’s one of those albums you find yourself tempted to say: “well, it just works”. But in truth, the temptation to rely on those easy turns of phrase would bely the fact that for all it’s easy warmth, Harbor is also an album that contains more than it’s share of mysteries to get listeners to keep coming back to find new hidden corners to explore. And as the days start to get longer and fall transitions to winter, it’s the perfect companion for walks that you’re in no hurry to see come to an end.