Let's start by not taking Loscil for granted. With his eighth album, Sketches from New Brighton, Scott Morgan is as deeply rooted in his Vancouver surroundings and the music he makes in dialogue with them as ever. He's also still engaged with the blueprint Oval laid down back on 1994's glowing "Do While," which promised a serene new age of glitches manicured into an enveloping, human form. From its first whirr and pop, opener "Khanamoot" paints in those same watercolor oscillations, with melodic fragments flashing up through the icy sounds of processing like thermal gusts. You'll be safe and calm here, watching the rain from your living room and moving your mug from one surface to another.
But absent a curveball like Endless Falls' "The Making of Grief Point," which drafted Dan Bejar in for an ominous voiceover about the creative process, or the more spacious compositions featured on last year's classically minded Coast/Range/Arc, Loscil's latest isn't exactly newsworthy, although it is another fine entry in his discography. Morgan's a steadfast ambient producer, and on Sketches, he seems to be revisiting the compact, somnolent feel of Plume, an album from six years ago. There are differences here too, but they feel like tweaks on a formula rather than the progression—modest but significant—just under the surface of his two previous albums, which availed themselves of more emotional content as well as a certain expansive sense of space and silence. This is Loscil at equilibrium.
His consistency may be down to his former sideline as the drummer in Bejar's Destroyer, which granted him the sort career stability and variety that allowed Loscil to develop with limited outside pressure. While Sketches from New Brighton hews close to Loscil's established themes, it's not without hints of novelty. "Hastings Sunrise"'s filtered Rhodes chords percolate in grim and measured fashion beneath atmospheric scraped cymbals, suggesting Morgan's found a link between his music and Bohren & der Club of Gore's lugubrious jazz. Later on in the album, "Collision of the Pacific Gather" reshapes Loscil's trademark palette into a kind of subliminal techno, like Kangding Ray smothered under a pillow. But these are welcome but fleeting distractions from the album's lulling undertow rather than moments that grab the listener and introduce new possibilities. It's another fully realized fusion of organic and inorganic elements, but as with Monolake's recent output, there isn't much to recommend it beyond that mastery, its aesthetic wholeness.
Listeners who have spent a significant amount of time with Loscil's music can expect a frustratingly familiar helping of his trademarked sound that fails to pick up on the tangents he's been hinting at. On the other hand, initiates may find Sketches from New Brighton to be an apt introduction to Morgan's sound world.