For the past few days, New York has been in the midst of a heat wave, and I’ve been waiting for a break ~ a cool, overcast, rainy day in which to review The Drowned World. The smooth modern jazz/Necks-like post-rock of Melbourne’s Motion is ideally suited to such settings: the grey world waiting for a touch of color. Claire Krouzecky’s handmade, ink-drenched covers, dried by vibrations from the album, make a perfect accompaniment: rivulets of hues, splayed by sound. As the album investigates the interplay between melody and texture, the covers mirror the performers, as the vibrations create improvisational lines atop the created art. Even the opening track, “Blank”, seems a nod to the creative process, the washed canvas waiting for attention, the g-clef waiting for signatures and scrawls. Slowly the song coalesces, gentle piano and saxophone, bass and brushed drums laying down the base coat before the increased volume and wild sax of the track’s final third. If not for this gentle eruption, the thunder atop the drizzle, the track would only be wonderful.
In J.G. Ballard’s The Drowned World, from which this album gains its name, an apocalyptic event has caused global flooding, mental regression and a retreat (or advance, depending on one’s personal interpretation) into the dreams of the collective unconscious. Improvisation is somewhat like this process: the desire to travel paths untrod, combined with the base instinct to delve into untapped emotion. Motion captures this feeling with a keen sense of restraint, coupled with occasional forays into the raw and indistinct. The quieter passages, of which there are many, create a contemplative space in which the imagination feels free to run rampant. This in turn creates the possibility of violence, play or art. Whenever the volume increases, the immediacy of the recording does as well. Sound bursts wait in the back like repressed feelings, eager to surge through cracks in the psyche.
By the center of the album, the play aspect has risen to the fore, with the quick-paced “Liberty Stole My Shoes” acting as an all-out jam, live drums imitating drum ‘n’ bass rhythms, saxophone wailing, volume switches pushed to the max. After this, the quintet seems spent, sprawling on the floor amid a scattered collection of water bottles. Rising like depleted athletes after halftime, they soon resume their painting. “Puzzle” may begin like an empty box, but it ends like a framed work. The closing piece, “It is at moments after I have dreamed …”, rises from a lull to a declarative statement before settling again into the cradle of the subconscious.
Motion may not have intended to reference last year’s rampant flooding, but the unstated point of The Drowned World (the novel and the album) seems to be that disaster is not always as it seems, as long as thoughts can still be improvised like dreams. (Richard Allen)