When two of your favorite artists get together to collaborate on an album, your expectations are generally high. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't. It's not easy taking your own style and figuring out a way to meld it with someone else who has their own way of going about things. However, within that process, there is a lot of room for growth. This, perhaps more than anything, is the best reason for such undertakings.
Sunken is a duo comprised of Pseudoarcana emperor, Antony Milton, and Pumice wunderkind, Stefan Neville. New Zealand is a place rich with experimental musicians, and in such a relatively small place (compared to the US, anyway), one would expect many of these artists to inbreed and work together. This is, however, the first effort Neville and Milton have done together. It's surprising it took them so long to get together for this session, but from the opening notes of "Vial," it is obvious how worth it the wait was.
Something that both Milton and Neville are able to do with their own music is add an element of warmth that guides the proceedings. Often, they are exploring very desolate landscapes with sound, so this becomes vitally important. Sunken takes that collective warmth and expands on it exponentially. This is music that is emotionally charged and stripped down to the raw muscle and bone that constructs it.
"Vial" opens the set with crackling drones from a reed organ and guitar drenched in effects. It's like hearing a bird fighting its way toward heaven. Interference runs rampant, but the quest won't be denied. The closer it gets, the brighter the lights that shine down on it. The simple repitition of the same few notes work their way into a crescendo, offering up the greatest gifts to the sun. Basking in its eternal glow, "Vial" takes you through the space and sky, only to return you to the womb from which you came. This is music that will hypnotize you at every turn.
The centerpiece of this masterful record is the 28 minute epic, "Spa." This is the perfect example of warm tones underlying harsh tones. Underneath, a barely reed organ stumbles along like a child taking its first steps. There's something endearing and hopeful about it. As raucous cassette loops jut out like jagged rocks from calm seas, the organ is your life preserver; just hang on to it and eventually you'll drift to the shore. This massive sludge creeps along for most of the duration, but it finally gives way to delicate, quiet whirs. It is a destination finally reached. It is the musical embodiment of a simple sigh. I am impressed how easily the loud beginning fades into this quiet end. Milton and Neville are performing pure magic here.
Most memorable, though, is "(Window) Sun." Milton's guitar playing reminds me so much of Neville's on Pumice's "Raft" CD that its uncanny. In combination with Neville's organ playing, it is painful. It's like parting ways with the love of your life, hearing all the worst things you could ever imagine anyone telling you. This is aural heartbreak. This is rock bottom. But in those darkest times, there is intrinsic beauty and the fragile nature of it is portrayed magnificently here. "(Window) Sun" is absolute gold.
I hope this isn't the last Sunken album to see the light of day. Milton and Neville should continue their collaboration based on the impressive results here. This is what collaborations should be about. By the end, you will feel like you've just walked 50 miles. It is exhausting, but you feel better for it; you feel like you actually accomplished something. And in that period, you can tell that Milton and Neville have grown as artists, learning tricks from each other. This is how it's done. 8/10 -- Brad Rose (25 May, 2005)