The cover of Monuments shows the edge of a forest, hazed in fog. It sits on the boundary between definition and suggestion, the clear lines of branches trailing into the empty, grey sky. The picture well suits North Atlantic Drift, similarly blend washed out ambience with sharper rhythms and instruments. Their style of ambient music, like Hammock or Slow Dancing Society, shares a close relationship with post-rock, borrowing from it some structures and sounds, but without the genre’s overt penchant for drive and drama.
The guitar tones in particular are strongly reminiscent of Hammock’s Maybe They Will Sing For Us Tomorrow, soaked in reverb and languidly spilling from the speakers, often with the barest hint of a strum. These make for a lovely, if familiar, bed to the pieces. If this were all the Canadian duo had to offer, then it would be hard to find any reason to listen to Monuments over the aforementioned Maybe They Will Sing, or any Stars of the Lid album.
Intelligently, North Atlantic Drift decorate and pierce their ambient framework with a variety of other elements. Some of the most effective of these are percussive. The flitting muted thumps of “Concrete Oceans” are not quite substantial enough to distract harmonic textures, but they still give you something to latch onto for a while amidst the drifting guitars and synths. Along with ghostly shimmers and a ponderous baritone guitar melody they make the piece Monuments’ standout. They also bring a welcome glimmer of purpose to the music – North Atlantic Drift are happy for you to relax, but the pieces never become soporific. “Scholars of Time Travel (Part II)” is the most ‘post-rock’ track on the album, and accordingly it incorporates the strongest beat. Echoing, tom-heavy drums pulse stolidly through the track as
The duo are at their most interesting when they are furthest from ambient/post-rock staples. “Sandlab”, for instance, is memorable for its sudden minimalism amongst a relatively active album (as ambient releases go, at least). “I Have Never Seen the Light” is mostly typical, though adept, fare, except that for significant portions of the track the drums are accompanied by only a distant, slow bass and little more than a wisp of guitar. Monuments is an album of moments, rather than of continual development or thematic exploration, but the regular appearance of these standout passages make for a pleasant listen and ensure that the backdrops remain lovely, not boring. The album closes on another highlight, the wash of guitar and synth clear now, fog drifted away, and a busy field recording bubbling through.