Scott Morgan's latest album is quite a surprise, at least by Loscil’s eternally understated standards. Partially inspired by hearing Philip Glass’s Koyaanisqatsi score on a worn VHS tape, Monument Builders finds Loscil being a pulled in a number of different directions at once while still being held together by the unifying thread of Morgan's warmly hissing and elegantly blurred production aesthetic. The result is quite an atypically epic and chameleonic Loscil album, but the material is strong enough to quell most of my misgivings about Morgan's stylistic tourism.
Scott Morgan’s work has always tended towards the melancholy side, but Monument Builders is a bit more unambiguously dark than he has been in the past. Aside from Glass, this album was also inspired by philosophy and art that explored the transience of humanity and the perverse and unintended beauty that we leave in our wake. It is especially easy to see how the latter theme might resonate especially strongly with Morgan, as he has long been fascinated with distressed and decayed sounds: Edward Burtynsky's distressed and decayed landscapes depicted on such a grand scale are not entirely unlike Morgan’s own, albeit in a different medium and at a much different scale. That said, however, Morgan does seem to be wrestling with the idea of crafting something epic here, albeit within the decidedly non-epic Loscil aesthetic of dub techno slowed to a near-ambient crawl. A few pieces still seem largely content with business as usual though, such as the brooding and slow-burning opener "Drained Lakes," which marries a simple minor-key melody to a muted kick-drum pulse and some subtly harsh and grinding swells. Gradually, the piece fleshes out into more lush territory, but not without a brief interlude of uncharacteristic starkness and muted catharsis.
Morgan’s "lo-fi Glass" fixation kicks in in earnest with the next piece though, as the obsessively repeating and propulsive arpeggios and somber brass textures of "Red Tide" sounds unapologetically like Glassworks played through a thin haze of static. While Morgan basically appropriated Glass's style wholesale, he at least manages to make his pastiche good enough to stand with the real thing. That quixotic Glass obsession resurfaces yet again with "Anthropocene," though Morgan is able to inject a bit more of his own aesthetic into it this time around by adding a skipping kick-drum beat. Elsewhere, the Glass influence and Morgan's newfound propensity for grand gestures generally just manifest themselves as mournful horn motifs looming above Loscil’s usual crackling, slow-motion dub. My favorite pieces tend to be those that avoid the Glass influence entirely though, even if they do maintain the album's elegiac tone. "Deceiver," for example, is initially a very simple and melancholy synth progression, but it eventually blossoms into a hauntingly strangled and corroded-sounding melody. Elsewhere, the closing "Weeds" completely wrong-footed me by unexpectedly channeling Love Streams-era Tim Hecker with a gorgeous crescendo of stuttering and chopped angelic voices. It is unfortunate that such a comparison is totally unavoidable, but it is an absolutely wonderful piece regardless and an unexpectedly appropriate and rapturous way to conclude such an otherwise bleak album.
Obviously, the primary flaw with Monument Builders is that it is so nakedly derivative in places, but Morgan perversely manages to cumulatively build something rather original from his co-mingled architecture of Loscil and borrowed iconic aesthetics. Whether it was a conscious decision or not, Morgan has essentially composed his own Koyaanisqatsi score, albeit for an imaginary dystopian version directed by Edward Burtynsky. As such, Monument Builders is a much more fascinating release than a more distinctly "Loscil" album might have been. Besides, compositional originality has never been a part of Loscil's appeal for me at all–I have always been drawn to Morgan's work primarily for its craftsmanship and masterful attention to textural detail, production-wise. That is where Morgan has always shined and he shines yet again here. Also, he definitely gets points for ambitiously straining at the seams of his own aesthetic and trying to do something new, even if the results feel a bit transitional (some fans will definitely find the previously reliable Morgan’s transformation a bit jarring). Morgan may have made some stylistic missteps along the way with this record, but they were at least in service of a significant and satisfying artistic statement: Monument Builders is admirably more than "yet another Loscil album."