SEA OF SOULS by Phorme
Written By: Matsu
Working with such names as the prestigious Pure Life collective, Phorme sets a high bar for their newest tape release, Sea Of Souls. Presented by the Hanging Garden sublabel of Pure Life for its digital release and put onto tape by Underwater Computing, this album already had a decent amount of time to be listened to between its releases, though the physical presentation of it has garnered a more general audience towards the album.
Simply from a first look, the artwork is excellent, done by UK-based Dreampunk/Garage producer Cryosauna, who manages to blend pieces of art together in a beautiful, blaring flash of sharp color to extract pure emotion from the viewer. Throughout the runtime, there is a clear rise and fall of tension within each piece, though the intensity of each burst from ambient to active becomes less prominent with each repetition, working towards the album’s benefit by creating a slow creep downwards despite the album’s tone being much the same at the first and final track.
Composed in the same vein as other dreampunk style albums, Sea Of Souls presents a very abstracted view of emotions through the use of deep ambience, synth progressions, and long bouts of swelling emotion. Each of these elements are brought to a climax every few tracks in which the music flourishes, releasing tension from the current motion before swiftly traveling back down into less intensive methods of instrumentation. There is a clear rhythm to how this album’s flow is executed, giving it a sense of progression as the listener goes through each track.
The more ambient sections of this album are beautifully composed and easy to lose oneself in, the synths in the forefront drawling on as if through an endless, opaque ocean. Background tones bleed forward and take presence over time in tracks such as “Dreaming Together”, showing off richer, rougher tones along the dreamier presence of echoey melodies layered up above. The longer sprawls in which Sea Of Souls loses itself to these more dreamy tones ironically tend to be its high points, compared to the explosions of emotion that bridge each of them together.
Conversely, these previously mentioned peaks of the album tend to be somewhat lackluster, either through the tones of the synths being much too abrasive to match the rest of the album’s atmosphere (“Amongst Every Other Lingering Soul”), being too indulgent in its own length comparative to the value of its chord to truly make the motion meaningful (“Losing Memories”), or simply having audio errors resultant of clipping.
At several points throughout “Amongst Every Other Lingering Soul” (notably 3:20), there is audible clicking in the background — either an error in effects work, or a misapplied cut which caused such a thing to happen. Though this may be negligible in many circumstances, the lush, evocative atmosphere being created by Sea Of Souls tends to be somewhat dragged away during these moments, as the nature of these clicks match neither its fidelity nor tone during the times of their appearance.
Overall, the album struggles with one of its main goals, but is lucky enough to have relegated them to small portions of the album, only making these pitfalls a small annoyance whenever they appear. The exception to these flaws in terms of the tracks meant to serve as a climax within the album is “Feels Like Dying Again”, the most excellent example of letting the emotions of the previous tracks stew before delivering a swift, interesting piece with driving, synth-based melodies.
As said before, the main form of expression within this album is its usage of peaks and lows within its composition, marked by a stretch of two ambient tracks before leading into a more driving piece directly after. This construction of the album alone feels as if it works wonders in helping realize the main themes of the album, each motion from low to high feeling like being pushed through a rolling tide. While the compositions may not hold up entirely to this form of quality, their presence helps solidify this aspect of the album and give it a flavor of its own.
The usage of phasers deeper within the album also helps to add to this identity, adding a flavor similar to the deep waters of the sea as the listener is washed along them, unsure of exactly where they are headed. Most interestingly is that these effects rarely transcend usage outside of the background layer, allowing them to be present without being overwhelming. With the usage of these techniques being very prominent in vapor and vapor-related albums, it is refreshing to see them take more of a back seat to help build an atmosphere.
Overall, Sea Of Souls, while interesting in its structure, has some minor problems that keep it from rising up to a much higher standing than other pieces with a similar sound. Through audio fumbles, an excess use of the time it designates for climax, and minor mishaps along the way, it manages not to stand out very much alongside other contemporaries in the dreampunk sound.
The most enjoyable parts were the ones leaning towards a heavier ambience, with much more work being put into their intricacy and sound during those sections of the album. However, since this sort of sound takes up a much larger chunk of Sea Of Souls, some listeners may find enjoyment skimming through the tracks rather than sitting down and powering through the piece as a whole. Even past its previous faults however, this album is certainly worth a short skim on one’s lonesome before you decide whether or not the type of sound it has going gives off a personally enjoyable flavor.
Favorite Track: Dreaming Together