Jon DeRosa’s Aarktica project covers ground where many have trod before, namely the use of guitar, loops, feedback, distortion and tape manipulation to make musical atmospheres and mood pieces. As the name suggests, the dominant aura is one of cold, oceanic isolation. But there is more to In Sea than an hour of Arctic ambience.
DeRosa lost almost all hearing in his right ear ten years ago, so the way he perceives sound is different to most of us. What is obviously a severe handicap for a musician, he has used to create sound slightly differently. Instead of stereo separation, he concentrates on depth and distance. It’s the aural equivalent of watching a movie without left-right panning but in 3D. A good example of this is the opener “I Am (The Ice)” where a guitar figure of graceful serenity dominates the foreground while the background is a tumult of crackle, feedback and distortion.
Some tracks on the album set moods, but don’t really develop anything with it. The best are more adventurous or, paradoxically, more traditionally structured. The deep, submerged drone of “A Plague of Frost” is almost free of rhythm or solidity and the title track, with its homophonic pun of a title, recreates the repetitive minimalism of Terry Riley.
On the other hand, some of the stand out pieces move away completely from the realms of the ambient. The gentle “Young Light” is upbeat, almost childlike. And the two actual songs are real gems. “Hollow Earth Theory” (as in Jules Verne’s Journey to the Centre of the Earth) is beautiful and delicate pop. Even better is the closing cover of Danzig’s “I am Demon” which turns Satanic metal into an almost folk-ish appeal for peace and rest. It’s a stunning interpretation.
In Sea has a few generic patches, but enough passages of beauty and distinction to leave it standing head and shoulders above most in what is becoming an ever more crowded field.
1 I Am (The Ice)
3 Hollow Earth Theory
4 A Plague of Frost
5 In Sea
7 Young Light
9 Corpse Reviver No. 2
11 When We’re Ghosts
12 Am I Demon?