Toronto based Polar Seas Recordings was founded a little over five years ago and for most of that time has primarily served as a home for the releases of Brad Deschamps & Mike Abercrombie as North Atlantic Drift as well as their respective side projects anthéne and Transits of Mercury. In the past year however, the label has released no less than eleven albums, matching the output of the first four years put together while expanding their roster of artists and encompassing a broader sonic palette. Here is a roundup of some the most recent and recommended.
Endurance – Echoic Architecture
Endurance is the musical pseudonym of Joshua Stefane, a Canadian researcher currently residing in Nara, Japan. Previously unfamiliar with his work, I was struck by both the scope and filigree of these sleek, textured drones inspired by architectural themes, a captivating sonic exploration of space, perspective, light and shadow. From the translucent structures of “Glass Towers” to the clicking & whirring of “Automata” and the efflorescent final coda “The Entire City” no doubt you will be as well.
Echoic Architecture is available in a limited edition cassette (50 copies) or as a digital download. Currently no CD or vinyl editions are available
anthéne – shifting lands
Brad Deschamps’ solo project keeps going from strength to strength with the second of two outstanding full-length anthéne releases this year. As compared with Orchid (Sound In Silence, April 2017) Shifting Lands is more austere and subdued in tone, though it largely dwells largely on the warmer side of the sonic spectrum and gives more attention to texture. If Orchid was a night flower in full bloom, Shifting Lands might be considered the quiet afterglow in the diffuse light of the coming dawn.
Shifting Lands is available in a limited edition cassette (50 copies) or as a digital download. Currently no CD or vinyl editions are available.
James A McDermid – Ghost Folk
Recorded between May 2015 and December 2016 in England and Portugal, Ghost Folk is the first new work from James A McDermid in a number of years. The Polar Seas release, which is emblematic of the growing diversity of the label, is actually a selection of tracks from six EPs recorded by McDermid during this period as a way of coping with failing health of his sister Harriet who passed away in August of 2016. Twenty-five of the thirty-six original tracks were chosen and re-sequenced to form this 70+ minute narrative of personal upheaval and loss.
This background is helpful to know as the album is more of an eclectic listening experience than a sentimental one. There certainly are deeply affecting moments of melancholic beauty (“Agirc”, “Estou”, “Sons & Lovers”, and “SAC3” being noteworthy examples), but there is an abundance of sonic ephemera here that convey other frames of mind such tension, disquiet, and distraction. Perhaps the album is best viewed as an echo or after image of a very complex human experience, all the more remarkable for its candor and vulnerability.
Ghost Folk features the voice of Veronika Zakonjšek on ‘Moje misli’, ‘Cine’, ‘Cecjle’, ‘Feathers’ and ‘AV City’ and artwork by Inês Ourives Delgado. The album is available on CD and digital.
North Atlantic Drift – Departures
Departures fully embraces the shift North Atlantic Drift began to take with last year’s Visitor from the melodic post-rock orientation of their early work toward a preference for pure ambient soundscapes. With the exception of the penultimate “March to the Capital” and its clockwork percussion and shimmering guitar lines, this expansive new record is content to linger amidst distended sonic forms and accretive vapor trails. The duo’s strong sense of melody still remains so what we end up with is the best of both worlds – the glacial majesty of their early sound fused with a new and complex drone substrata that resonates deeply. This is one of those records that seems to reveal more with every listen and surely must be regarded as their most accomplished work to date,. Also included with Departures are two live bonus tracks which fit the motif of the album rounding it out into quite a generous offering.
“Brad and I are really trying to get at a certain sound we adore- a simplified ambient drone garnished with static and texture, stretched and given tension with string-like timbres. It’s a way to escape the overly hyped, mass produced pop productions currently dominating music. I like to joke that we make sounds like a tortured orchestra, which by complete coincidence, almost perfectly describes one of the videos made” – Mike Abercrombie
Departures was released on limited edition CD which has since sold out. Digital copies remain available.