Published Jun 06, 2019Enveloping atmospheric synthesis is at the crux of Jacob Long's artistic ethos. For more than a decade, he's made music that explores colour in sustained sound, albeit with a different choice of paintbrush every now and then. As Earthen Sea, his lush dub techno incantations began most notably on Lovers Rock, although the basis of the sound was in place far earlier. Since then, he's been working with gridded kick-drums long enough to escape ascription as a dilettante. Although his music could never have been described as "maximal," on Grass and Trees, Jacob Long distils to reductionism.
The track titles certainly lend a clue going in. On this most recent album for the legendary Kranky, Jacob Long's sound is refined and cast into sparse arrangement across the seven tracks. "Existing Closer or Deeper in Space" is the perfect introduction; rhythms pulse in reverberating, foreboding fashion beneath the dubbed percussive sounds that twinkle and chime. The main theme is a dubbed chord that skitters in time amongst the shuffling matter, but with unexpected clarity. Then, in "Window, Skin and Mirror," tension gives way to absolution, with the closest we come to danceable rhythms across the album. Calm and assuring, a similar palette of sound is conjured up, but with tonality that elicits an entirely different effect.
Across the following tracks, Long accomplishes a similar feat. "Spatial Ambiguity" is more recessed and distant than the previous two, while "A Blank Slate" puts the dubbed chords in the spotlight atop of the softly swirling ambience beneath — it can feel a little jarring amidst all of the serenity. The grouped quartet of 16th note sub-bass and percussion in "Living Space" seems to dance in a call-and-response type action, all while leaving the heaving dirge to meander lazily underneath. "Shallow, Shadowless" ebbs and flows beautifully, with the most effective rhythmic work on the album, working in tandem with the ambience in a manner that is never forced or hurried. It's a wonderful example of the subtlety intentioned for across these seven tracks. In comparison, the closing track, "Less and Less," can feel a little dry and emotionless, with the hand-struck-sounding percussion seeming somewhat disconnected from the main melodic theme.
Across the 38 minutes of the album, Earthen Sea accomplishes his most concise artistic statement. The elements contained wherein reflect what Jacob Long perceives to be the most essential elements of his sound, and nothing more. That can make this album seem a little surgical compared to Ink and An Act of Love, whose sonic scopes were far more enveloping and encompassing. Nonetheless, this never detracts from the sage serenity of the album. Grass and Trees is, above all else, a contemplative tranquil reprieve from the turbulence of modern life. (Kranky)