High Plains – Cinderland

High Plains (Scott Morgan and Mark Bridges) orbit a cold sun. The dark-edged precipice of the music has become a nesting place for a flock of black crows, and a recently arranged circle of stones has been used for the practice of dark arts. From the Canadian Pacific Northwest, Morgan is perhaps best known as loscil, while Mark Bridges is a classically-trained cellist from Madison, Wisconsin. With its history of long-buried secrets, Cinderland seems to rise up off the tip of the mountain, grazing the brink with its suffocating clouds and seeming to embody the mountain itself, the cello leaking from glacial rock and thawing ice. It’s a merging of neoclassical and modern electronic music, the classical valleys thousands of years old, the electronic streets only a hundred or so.

In early 2016, with temperatures still at a low point and struggling to climb above freezing, the pair spent two weeks quarantined in a refurbished school house in Saratoga, a town drifting in the altitude-thin air of Wyoming. Cinderland is a winter’s tale, inspired in part by Schubert’s Die Winterreise while being firmly influenced by their surroundings. The recording lives and breathes within the confines of the building itself, giving in to its stark light. The clashing notes of the resident Steinway D piano palpitate with an unresolved, irreversibly malignant tension. It simultaneously watches, stalks and hunts. When the evening comes, the lights are like eyes that glow with artificial luminescence.

The sounds within are animated by a deep-set anxiety, agitated by the whiteout of the snow and its ill effects, evoking the rugged landscape – a permanent fixture – which hangs over the small schoolhouse. The cello is mountain-vast, sweeping over the electronic, rockier edges. Populated by a series of lurking, unknowable threats, the cello (or the mountain) hosts an unwell cast of flickering shadows that are, from this distance, stained by a window’s smeared glass. Elusive wild beasts scurry through the camouflage of the trees, but their presence is felt more than seen, and the music is able to dart speedily one way and then turn in an instant, as if scenting fresh prey in the air.

Cinderland’s classical, cinematic and electronic approach takes the music in an unexpected direction. The grim light of a pale winter has well and truly settled into the bones. A drizzly ambient rain falls upon a densely-textured drone, and the cello shrieks overhead until the track violently spews out a screeching siren. ‘A White Truck’ is doused with a litre of petrol, and it explodes in a blazing fireball without any warning. At first, the music had only been thought of as a potential threat, just a black shimmer in an endless procession of shifting shadows, but this unprovoked attack puts the listener on edge even further: anything can happen here, and the music isn’t afraid to bare its teeth.

In ‘Hypoxia’ and “Rushlight”, the cello lengthens, the skin stretched out as if attached to a medieval instrument of torture. Unsteady melodies give off a sickly aura as the secrets of past decades are regurgitated. Something isn’t quite right, and that intentionally deepens the recording, pushing it into a state of dark complexity, residing in and exploring areas that aren’t just black or white but shaded in permanent hues of grey. Slightly unhinged in its being, Cinderland will pull you in and spit you out.

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