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Ekca Liena: Graduals (ConSouling Sounds)

Daniel MacKenzie’s Graduals is a fairly sharp contrast to the only other album I’ve heard of his (his collaboration with Spheruleus, Mapping the Boundary Layer, released in 2012 on Home Normal). “Out Fir” begins with a faint murmur of undulating sound, gradually brewing into a mysterious blend of vibes, drones, and atmosphere before layering additionally abrasive sounds that tremble within the mix. It feels as though there is a push and pull between the more sublime atmospheres and the more immediate, grittier textures that struggle to co-exist on some of these pieces, and it’s that feeling of tension that propels it forward and keeps me so engaged. These tracks flow into one another as movements of a whole rather than discrete pieces, so it’s best to experience Graduals as one expansive journey, if possible. In contrast to the shrill squiggles that characterize the final moments of “Out Fir,” “Mattie Devore” boasts more obvious musicality, sharing some of the hazy gravitas of his contemporary Tim Hecker. I suppose it comes down to a feeling of dread rather than doom, a distinction worth making when considering Graduals relative to some of the more sinister dark ambient sounds out there. But it’s not all so dark; it lives up to its title with varying tonal shades, with closing piece “Ky Ra” sounding substantially different from the splashy grind of “Free Precipitation,” for example. And yet they all feel like they belong together, part of a linear arc that is full of surprises. “Free Precipitation” evolves into a full-on psych jam, “Mattie Devore” brings the drama with bellowing organ and drones, or “Fields Forever”’s disorienting, backwards introspection.

Graduals by Ekca Liena

The album is intended as a deliberate sequel of sorts to MacKenzie’s debut album, Slow Music for Rapid Eye Movement. Truthfully, I haven’t heard it, and so I am approaching Graduals entirely on its own merits — but it’s surely an impressive body of work. Compared to his collaborations with Spheruleus, these tracks are richer, more immersive, more emotive. They evoke a much more intense intimacy, with its crests and valleys complementing one another to good effect as one long journey. Highly recommended.

Buy it: Bandcamp | ConSouling