This is Cobb's first full-length under his own name, but he has long been an active and influential figure in the American drone scene as both Taiga Remains and the man behind the Students of Decay label. Appropriately, the shedding of his artistic alias coincides with a more human, warm, and intimate direction that is not wildly dissimilar to early Taiga recordings like 2006's Ribbons of Dust. That (somewhat circular) change seems to have suited him quite well, as he and his guitar have delivered a wonderfully languorous suite of gently swaying dronescapes.
Passage to Morning is a curious type of album that only a completely confident and established artist could make, as Cobb does not overtly attempt to offer anything particularly "new" or striking. Instead, these five pieces required me to trust Alex as someone who has a very firm handle on what constitutes great music and allow him the proper time and focus to unearth their subtle beauty. That is not to say that there are not pieces that stand out, as I immediately loved the queasily dissonant oscillations that ripple through the culminating swells of "The Habit Body." I was also completely drawn in by the way that the cold and cavernous opening of “Bewildered By Its Blue” gives way to warm and gently crackling drone bliss. Rather, I mean that the full extent of Cobb's craftsmanship did not become apparent to me until I had heard the album enough to appreciate the flow of the individual pieces within the context of the whole.
The opening "The Immediate Past" is the best illustration of Passage to Morning's initially inscrutable nature, as its glacially unfolding swells of guitar shimmer are transformed into something much more compelling by a ghostly, buried undercurrent. Rather than continuing to evolve, however, the piece remains relatively static until it eventually fades out. The closing "Landscape Dissolves" follows a similar trajectory: slowly fading in, sounding great, then fading out. Initially, I found that to be incredibly exasperating, as it seemed like Cobb created a perfect backdrop for something truly wonderful to occur, then decided that he was content with just the backdrop. To a certain extent, I still feel that way about some songs, but there is actually a clear evolution displayed over the course of the entire album. Taken on its own, "The Immediate Past" can seem like something of a prematurely ended missed opportunity, but it feels much more meaningful and substantial when it is allowed to flow into "The Habit Body" (and so on).
My criticisms are rooted in high expectations, however, many of which were either met or exceeded: Cobb has created some truly lush, beautiful drone that favorably reminds me of both recent Windy & Carl and early (pre-orchestral) Stars of the Lid. Admittedly, nothing on Passage to Morning matches either band at their peak, but Alex has proven that those heights are within his reach. Cobb's main hurdle is finding a way to make his work more distinctive from that of his peers–a way to humanize his work still further. Alex's talent for burying dissonance and tension within beauty is likely his greatest and most uniquely Cobb-ian trait, but the songs without that balancing act can too easily be mistaken for the work of someone else. Despite that, Passage to Morning is still an excellent album and an impressive creative evolution for Cobb. There are definitely strong hints of even greater potential within these songs, but the current offering is very much an absorbing and well-composed effort in its own right.
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