Sub Rosa is the follow-up to Omnia Convivia Crastina, which crashed our Top 20 Albums of 2012. Like many Tonesucker releases, it’s a thick collection of extended pieces, here a quartet of selections totaling one second under one hour. The unifying thread is that each piece is loosely intended to reflect the area in which it was recorded: three rivers and an estuary in England and France. One of these, the River Loire, has seen its share of recent tributes, notably Hervé Moire’s Mirage de Loire and Linear Bells’ Ex Kiss. But while those artists approach their subject through field recordings and ambient washes, Tonesucker takes a more aggressive approach. It’s certainly in them to share an electronic current, as in the opener “Omnia Convivia Crastina Pars Secunda”, which acts as a piece of driftwood that picks up speed as it races down the river. But the band is more likely to provide unsettling noises that grow comforting only through repeated exposure.
Tonesucker’s stated subject is “loss of home”, along with all of its requisite associations. The last album was literally set adrift, released to the tides. “The Wrong Wire” epitomizes disorientation by mangling the 1920’s classic “Which Switch Is the Switch for Ipswitch”, setting it in an unmade bed of rumpled pillows and disheveled blankets. The seven minute song (hit single?) begins with a blast and ends in diminishment, reflecting the churn of emotions a person once felt when a switchboard operator made “the wrong connection”. While the physical experience is no longer common (save for that of being shunted from one help operator to another), a similar feeling is generated when every attempt to communicate with a loved one seems thwarted by misunderstanding and fate.
“Nantes Report” is “classic” Tonesucker, a drumbeat that eventually tumbles into a rising drone, threatening to burst the banks and flood the town. But at 26:09, the title track (no hit single here!) is easily the best track here – a thankful fact, considering its length. This live recording is a beautiful ambient piece that just drifts and drifts. Just kidding! It drifts for about three minutes, displaying a lovely sine wave worthy of Yann Novak. Then the detritus begins to appear like the wreckage that follows a flood. A laudable restraint is evident throughout the opening section, which stays beneath the wrack line for nearly seven minutes. There’s no clear breach – no discernible moment in which the barriers tumble – but by the middle of the track, a quiet chaos reigns. And by the end of the track, which is also the end of the album, listeners may feel that they have been led out of the promised land, only to be led back in again, which is a lot like losing one’s home and finding a new one. (Richard Allen)