Loscil's Scott Morgan recorded Monument Builders during a difficult time that also spawned For Greta, an EP benefiting a friend's daughter battling a rare form of bone cancer. On this full-length, he gives that sense of sadness and frustration a global scope as he reflects humanity's toll on the environment. Monument Builders' grey and black vistas were also inspired by a moldering VHS copy of Koyaanisqatsi, the renowned nature documentary that expressed its themes as much through Philip Glass' iconic score as its striking visuals.
This year has dug its weedy roots into us like a slow fever dream, all drone footage and DDoS attacks and clown masks. Suddenly the self-destruct buttons are jammed down: ‘financial irregularities’ buried on server farms, iCloud accounts full with evidence of police brutality, democracy played like a game of chess between politicised hackers, grainy footage of capsized life-crafts encountered regularly. Nobody trusts the results of your emissions test.
Scott Morgan (aka Loscil) has built a career crafting instrumental thinkpieces centred on strong themes. The Vancouver producer has explored ocean life (2002's Submers), '60s literature (2012's City Hospital) and Vancouver landscapes (2004's First Narrows and 2012's Sketches from New Brighton).On Monument Building, his eighth LP, Morgan finds inspiration from Phillip Glass's score to the 1982 experimental film Koyaanisqatsi. Pulling together seven tracks in just over 40 minutes, Monument Builders seems to examine despair and hopelessness, as "Drained Lake," "Straw Dogs" and "Anthropocene" reference the manufactured landscapes photos of Edward Burtynsky and the anti-humanist writings of English political philosopher John Gray.
Do we have any control over our own realities? Can beauty exist amid wanton destruction? If so, should we enjoy it? On Monument Builders, ambient maestro Loscil explores the same existential quandaries as Adam Curtis in his recent documentary Hypernormalisation and photographer Edward Burtynsky, in a range of collections that show the unintendedly breath-taking landscapes created by mines, rubbish dumps and salt pans. In doing so, he creates a post-industrial hinterland that’s equal parts brutalism and beauty, and one of the most captivating releases of the year. This is a breathless and dense record, built on layers of crackle, fuzz and dystopian fugue.
Scott Morgan’s trajectory as Loscil, the moniker under which he produces his solo work, seems more befitting of a biologist than an ambient music veteran. Over the past sixteen years, Morgan has shaped his electronic sound around subjects like subatomic particles (Triple Point), shadowy ocean depths (Submers), shore life (First Narrows), and the traits of airborne substances (Plume). Even the intention behind his free-flowing arrangements is scientific, as Morgan has often acknowledged his aim to recreate the properties of water in music.
Loscil is the convergence of two memes that have had stellar years in 2016: Canadian ambient musicians, anchored by Tim Hecker and his album-of-the-year candidate Love Streams, and stage names inspired by program functions, joining San Francisco electropop newcomer SUMif in this regard. Loscil, born Scott Morgan, has taken influences for this album that run the full spectrum of the human condition. Composer Philip Glass, who has created some of the most life-affirming classical ambient music throughout his career (though Morgan’s stated that Glass’ score for the film Koyaanisqatsi is the most direct inspiration here), and philosopher John Gray, whose ideas The Guardian claimed are so “remorselessly, monstrously negative that even nihilism implies too much hope.
loscil — Monument Builders (Kranky)Photo by Mark Mushet2016 has been a tough year for so many of us that at this point saying it’s been a bad one is practically a cliche. Canadian ambient master Scott Morgan, aka loscil, knows this as well as anyone (he unfortunately started the year with the kind of keen reminder of mortality that 2016 would go on to provide music fans with again and again). Unsurprisingly grappling with issues of mortality has lead Morgan to some darker influences on his newest loscil LP, from the darkly cynical philosophies of John Gray to the raw, moving, post-civilization imagery of Edward Burtynsky (also an influence on Morgan’s excellently and fittingly stark photography).
The inspirational jumping-off points that electronic composer Scott Morgan has cited in regards to his latest album are a worn out VHS copy of Koyaanisqatsi, John Gray’s Straw Dogs, and Edward Burtynsky’s photographs of environmental pollution; a bleak trio of modern classics that leaves little guess as to the temperament of Monument Builders. The album title’s reference to professional headstone makers is also given plural meaning by the lone concrete tower block supine on the cover art. A sense of cool reserve has been one of Loscil’s defining characteristics.