1 Mile North is a post-rock veteran. His first album appeared in 2001, although his career also includes a ten-year hiatus. For a short period, the act was a duo, but for the past few years, J. Hills has been the sole member, creating the aural illusion of a band. His timbre has also shifted, from an early tilt toward ambience to an embrace of classic post-rock.
The Sunken Nest is a patient album, not quiet-loud-quiet, but a set of building soundscapes. Each piece has its own flow, like a tide heading somewhere. But there’s also a hidden theme, as the album was written on Fire Island during the pandemic, the artist seeking comfort in the tides while watching the progress of beach erosion. Is no place safe? The burning boat on the cover seems to imply that inattention may lead to disaster, an undercurrent flowing from 1 Mile North’s debut in the shadow of 9/11.
The album titles may be read as a poem:
Plunge forth into muted depths
where light collapses into night.
Exhale and sink;
find rest amidst the ship:
Your sunken nest.
The poem sounds like cocooning: a retreat into a safe shelter, as many did over the course of the past two years. But it’s also an intimation of doom, in the same manner as a siren calls one to the watery depths. How long must we protect ourselves? Will we ever emerge? “Into muted depths” provides the album’s first rush of darkness, a mournful flavor like slow, unconscious sinking. A slow drumbeat accompanies swirling guitars on “Where light collapses into night,” recalling the drone experiments of thisquietarmy. In the “exhale” half of “Exhale and sink,” the music grows softer, nearly contemplative. The “sink” half snarls, struggles, and flails about before giving up, exhibiting a learned helplessness that may or may not reflect reality.
The invitation to find rest within a burning or sinking ship is insidious; one would never do so in real life, and yet the image is a symbol. The ship is our planet, or at least the part that can sustain humanity. In the early days of the pandemic, many people attempted to “escape,” discovering that no place was safe; in the same fashion, despite thoughts of building an ark to the stars, there is no exit from climate change. The only options are to address or endure.
There’s great comfort in the familiar post-rock template of “Amidst the ship,” but a false comfort, like the numbing of painkillers. Creating a score for slow dissolution may also sap one’s strength; thankfully, the final track offers brighter chords, a modicum of encouragement, a reminder that the waves may one day carry us away, but likely not today. (Richard Allen)