Loscil – Monument Builders

Listening to Loscil’s album, Monument Builders, I came to view it as a counterpoint to the equally intense dark ambient record Towards A Bleak Sun by Mesektet. While Mesektet wandered the desiccated, wasted glory of Egypt’s Pharaonic monuments, Loscil tours the damned works of modern mankind finding a similarly poisoned gigantism at work. Both call to mind Shelley’s desolate boast: “My name is Ozymandias, king of kings: Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!”

While Mesektet focused on the abandoned works constructed by (and for) past humanity’s most elevated representatives, Loscil’s identifies – in titles like ‘Drained Lake’ and ‘Red Tide’ – that the most fundamental ‘monuments’ to modern human genius are the scars left as we systematically wring all use from our planet, leaving it barren, sterile, lifeless. One track is named ‘Anthropocene’, a reference to the (posited) current geological era in which humanity is a force altering natural planetary processes. Another, ‘Straw Dogs’, nods to the influence of Professor John Gray, and quotes an expression implying the pitilessness of nature (and, in this context, man): all things being significant only in the moment of requirement, to be discarded when their usefulness is concluded with no intrinsic interest in their life or preservation.

When dealing with ambient electronica, named context matters: it’s where the depth and venom reside. Seen in this light, the radio crackle, click and repeat looping through the title track feels like an aural companion to Nevil Shute’s apocalyptic novel On The Beach, in which a last desperate remnant of humanity chases a Morse signal to irradiated north-west America only to find a broken window sash blowing in the breeze thus tapping the key of a telegraph device. ‘Deceiver’ returns to the same colossal keyboard tones to similar visual effect (here a single chime suggests the repeated accident of the pressed key) while ‘Straw Dogs’ – positioned in-between ‘Monument Builders’ and ‘Deceiver’ – provides a haunting elegy to all that has departed the land at conclusion of our remorseless work.

A common tendency with a lot of solo-produced work that lives outside of verse-chorus-verse song arrangements, is for tracks to develop through the multiplication of layers (which, in a further logical step, provides more options that can be subsequently subtracted permitting a stable transition to whatever layer is then highlighted). It’s certainly a recognisable and repeated trope here. The biggest deviations in mood both recall Coil: ‘Anthropocene’ lives on a Love’s Secret Domain-era beat underpinned by a gravelly crunch; while album finale, ‘Weeds’, has the jittery, chittering air of LSD album highlight ‘The Snow’. This is no criticism: Monument Builders is a compelling sonic vision on its own account. Being blown onto the monumental soundscape memorialising Coil plants Loscil’s work in deep, fruitful and fertile soil.

About Nick Soulsby (46 Articles)
Nick is the author of 'I Found My Friends: the Oral History of Nirvana' (St Martins Griffin) and 'Cobain On Cobain: Interviews and Encounters' (Chicago Review Press - February 2016). He lives in Bristol.
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