Given that the recording of The Separate Ones, the debut full-length release from Eyes Cast Down, took place over seven years of part-time work, it’s no wonder that the finished product comes off as very intimate and personal. Surprisingly, considering its spread-out pedigree, it also manages to feel like a sensible, continuous narrative. Through six tracks, composer Greg Moorcroft moves his work from warm, straightforward guitar ambient to fever-dream ruminations graced with Sanskrit chant. The journey runs, by turns, from calming to halluncinatory, but keeps the listener engaged throughout. Starting as it does with the quiet ambient structures of “First Day Apart”, it would be easy to dismiss this within the first five minutes as simply that–quiet ambient. As much as I enjoy the rich guitar tones here, it’s when Moorcroft begins imbuing the work with more texture and drama that things get even more interesting. “Rebuild from Memory” retains the sighing notes at first, with Moorcroft rippling their surface with wavering treatments. It’s a very classic sound, broad and calming. “Knife of Karma” glides in on rich waveform pads, then adds a metallic clatter, creating moments of percussion that come and go. Mid-track it turns slightly toward a dissonant feel, like shadows falling across the sound. Sharp guitar notes cleave through the mix. Echoing, chanting vocals from singer Alannah drive “Expanse of Heart”. There’s a wonderful, gut-shaking bass chord that comes and goes throughout the piece, a great counter to the skyward-reaching vocals. And then there is the centerpiece here, “Like A Riven Cloud”, a piece composed of improvised parts, used as a conduit for Moorcroft’s feelings about a friend’s suicide. This is a bared-soul piece of work, extremely vulnerable, with the feel of an unsettled dream. Moorcroft’s wife Dasi recites part of a Sanksrit prayer for protection in the middle of a scattered wash of sounds, and the raw sadness in her voice, at times sounding quite on the verge of tears, cuts straight into you. Violin from Ezra Azmon – whom Moorcroft found busking on the street in Toronto – cries and calls from the distance and adds a fiery anger in spots. At 21 minutes, this is a long time to spend washed over with someone else’s potent emotions, and it’s hard not to come away a little changed from the experience. The disc ends with “Radha’s Tears”, pairing a solo processed guitar with vocals from Dasi. The guitar sounds swirl and resonate, and I find it interesting that the vocals come off as the sharper element here, not interruptive, but at times almost boldly challenging the instrument.
Quite honestly, I struggled to find words for this review. I have probably listened to this disc more than 20 times in the past couple of weeks, and it has lost none of its potency for the repetition. While all music is personal at its core, The Separate Ones stands out for the extreme intimacy it conveys and the remarkable depth of effect it carries. It is profoundly intense in its honesty. I highly recommend reading Moorcroft’s extensive background notes on his pieces. The very good news is that while this disc was seven years in the making, Moorcroft says cracking this ice has opened the flow, and there will be several more Eyes Cast Down releases in 2013. This is quite a good thing for ambient music fans.
Eyes Cast Down is the ethereal music project by Greg Moorcroft. Using various guitars, synthesizers, computer programs and acoustic sources, Moorcroft has produced The Separate Ones (73’34”), a fascinating album of six sustained atmospheres. The Separate Ones provides the listener with intelligently directed soundscapes, within which we are almost certain to become lost. Measure upon measure of slowly changing, undulating chords advance and recede along a musical arc of vague dimensions. The slowly breathing tones summon interesting variations in mood and space. Yet these dark sonic clouds cannot keep the sacred from shining through. There are areas of minimal sound, which move on to a thick density of contrasting timbres and emanations in a striking drama of dynamic range. Other pieces dwell in restful sonic colors, luxuriant in their repose. The two final pieces are dreamy – truly depicting the often strange and surreal landscapes and images generated by the dreaming mind. Random voices speak softly amidst reverberant guitar plucks and swells as distant ringing percussion and deep rumblings meet to transform this section into abstraction. This sophisticated collection of Ambient realizations proves to be a delight of wit and wonder in its minimalist phantasmagoria of sounds. The Separate Ones seems felt rather than reasoned out, proving seductive in its use of musically dramatic forms – and achieves an uncanny haunting intensity equal to if not exceeding that of Moorcroft’s predecessors.
The sole musician behind Eyes Cast Down is US-based ambient/electronic composer, musician and writer Greg Moorcroft. The Separate Ones (that demanded seven years of hard work to complete as life got in the way on many occasions during the process of creation and sculpting) is a concept album featuring a set of reflections on attachment, separation and loss. This automatically made me think of Paul Sauvanet’s Tristesse, along with an album by Boris Lelong (that I reviewed a while back), who also appears to have provided the artwork for The Separate Ones.
Work started with lots of trial and error of ambient improvisation and composition for which Greg stuck to synths only for about two years. Next, he decided to try his hand at composing for electric guitar. This turned out more effectively and satisfying, eventually leading to four guitar-driven works on a total of six compositions.
The 73-minute The Separate Ones features airy, drifting and lush textural worlds along gentle loops that now and then bring the older releases of Jeff Pearce to mind. Moreover, it’s an entrance into a slowly curling and flowing world of contemplation and inner thoughts despite a constant undercurrent of movement. Things go even deeper on the 17-minute “Knife of Karma”, where drifting pads, Tibetan drone chimes and soft bells run the celestial edge.
This moody sphere continues on the elevating “Expanse of Heart”, on which a heavenly female voice joins the gentle soundscapes. The 21-minute “Like a Riven Cloud” is the longest take on the album, entering a spacious dream sphere with soft mourning and wavering violin. But as the track progresses, a surreal/psychedelic world opens up as well, something that’ s also found in the final piece “Radha’s Tears”.
All in all, The Separate Ones is a peculiar but also fascinating ambient album needing a couple of spins before one can judge its real sonic impact.