By: Sam Birkett
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Released on September 4, 2015 via Consouling Sounds
Post-rock and ambient artists have long borne the baggy weight of the term ‘cinematic’ with varying degrees of patience. To many artists, it is a lazy label that people use to give the impression of critical thought without actually delving into their rich and textured music. For other artists, it captures how their music is meaningless without visual accompaniment. In the rare case of Josh Graham‘s (aka IIVII) Colony, it is an entirely accurate and complimentary description of an album that evokes the grandeur, wonder and fear of the best science fiction cinema with only ambient soundscapes and the dark plot hints of the album cover.
Colony is a record which exemplifies the capacity for album art to be instrumental in the function of a musical recording: the cover, designed by Graham, depicts the reflective helmet of an unknown being, the ruins of a saturnine colony reflected in their featureless gaze. The mood and content of this art acts as an imaginative prompt for the listener, providing a mysterious outline for the music of Colony to reshape, colour, and animate. It does so with excellently paced expanses of synth-based ambience that build to crescendos of a quality that gives Graham away as an ex-Red Sparowes like a gang tattoo; dusted with samples of breathing apparatuses, sirens, and haunting mechanical echoes, these tracks embody an eldritch, celestial fiction and rarely in the album’s running time does this atmosphere relinquish the listener.
In truth, despite Colony’s impressively whole narrative feel, I found that it sounds best when listened to with an existentially-tinged sci-fi novel: when preparing for this review I was devouring my way through Dan Simmons’ Hyperion (which I cannot recommend enough) and Colony melded with the action and atmosphere of the book effortlessly. This ability is one of the album’s greatest assets: it nestles so naturally in the mind that reading, dreaming, or wondering are not at all hindered by the music’s presence, rather they are amplified by its beautiful ambience.
With Colony, IIVII has achieved an amazing feat – a soundtrack that can both stand alone and meld seamlessly with the narratives of others. This album matches 65daysofstatic’s wonderful Silent Running in quality of vision; to see Josh Graham’s talents similarly matched with an old film or a worthy writer or director would be something indeed.