As the pandemic eases, we expect the surge of pandemic albums to ease as well. But we’ve been fooled before, which gives the title Waves a double meaning. First there are the literal waves: shore sounds collected by Low Altitude in Suffolk, Sussex, Kent, Devon, Anglesey and Yorkshire. Then there are the waves of the pandemic, along with the matching waves of anxiety, relief, and new trepidation. The artist meets these with waves of his own: washes of ambience that soothe and comfort the listener.
The artwork portrays a lighthouse, which one must strain to see: ensconced upon a giant rock, stable and resolute. The scrawls ~ ^^^^^ ~ sometimes lean and sometimes stand, like abbreviated waves, or shark fins, or flashes of fear. The light blue paper seems to have been crinkled and uncrinkled like an idea discarded and rescued, or a life damaged and repaired. Atop of it all, a tiny rainbow, symbolizing Noah, the end of the pandemic, and a wider sort of freedom and pride.
The album begins on a happy note, with light lapping and birdsong. The music seems airy and bright. But “Porth Wen” is only 57 seconds long, swiftly giving way to “These Are Heavy Things.” The dichotomy is set: eternal things beckon, including the peacefulness of the shore. But other tides approach. The waves of static drone imply that these are indeed heavy things. The artist subtracts the drones at the end to focus on the chimes, a subtle shift, yet a crucial one.
The specificity of the field recordings is part of the album’s attraction. At no time are these waves violent; nor do the birds swoop to defend their nests. The danger is in humanity, not nature. And if nature is benevolent, or at least impassive, then the immediate danger may rest in the mindset. The tone of the album suggests that the artist has been restored by immersion in the ideas of cycle and flow. Even in the midst of density there are moments of light, especially “Iken Beach,” during which the artist allows the field recordings to remain audible all the way through, accompanying the gulls with bright keys.
The bittersweet nature of the closing title, “Last Days of Summer,” is offset by the release date. All of spring and summer await, and we can only hope that we are nearing the light of an emotional shift as well. (Richard Allen)