The Sentimental Drift sees the return of Black Swan. His music – described as ‘drones for bleeding hearts’ – has always contained within it a ton of emotion, personal in its expression and deep in its significance. And The Sentimental Drift has most definitely been worth the long wait. At first, smooth synths help to give off a white heat, radiating a warmth like that of overheated metal, hot to the touch, and almost radioactive in its ability to sizzle and burn the flesh. This opening sits in contrast to Black Swan’s cooler discography, and it’s a welcome change. Since the opening is entitled ‘Birth’, the warm apricot hues could represent the comfort of the womb, becoming the first chapter as the tones emerge into the world. The drone-work is similar, which is a good thing, and the music is just as refined as it ever was. Punctured fragments of sound later decay in front of the listener, adding a dull bronze and a nostalgic side to the music, a classic film noir in which all the stars have now moved on. The reels continue to revolve, though, pouring out a selection of sober melodies with long tails of delay and the trailing echoes of a memory growing fainter by the day.
Black Swan is a master at producing heavenly drones; his compositions are full of an emotional gravitas, bridging a dark chasm between harmony and the destruction of that harmony, feeling completely suspended in the ether while being 100% ethereal. He keeps them untethered to the world while simultaneously reining them in with invisible hands, and one can feel the squeeze of a tense tone and the relief in its final weightlessness. ‘Die For You’, for instance, features a heart-tugging progression between two jet-lagged chords, tugging and releasing, while sanctifying choral whispers emerge in the background, creating an atmosphere of raw awe and wonder. Each piece flows into the next, so The Sentimental Drift has a unifying thread running directly through it – tracks are divided in name only. Black Swan is used to conducting his dark symphony in this way, and he’s more than adept at producing a single orchestrated piece that grows and grows, never tiring or delivering an anti-climax but bringing it to fruition at just the right moment.
Above all, the album is a journey, and its continuity makes the music stand out, giving it more of an emotional impact while delivering a powerful ambient punch. It’s one long movement in which the music leans, grows, lowers itself and ascends, bending towards the light of its synth like a sunflower in a wildflower kingdom. Slow to unfurl, the record is a grower; while the opening sets the scene, the album becomes stronger the deeper the listener goes, and the later harmonies are tinted with darker rays. The drone is one long life, progressing from birth unto death, and it speeds towards its ending; the last drone is a seventeen-minute spiral into the dark – ‘The Black Room’ – where the music descends and descends. Like looking out of a window as a plane begins to bank and lose altitude, the drone passes through a battery of dark, shifting clouds with only one destination in sight.