- What if you made a classic record and no-one heard it? What if you made a bunch of them? At least Jon DeRosa's 2000 debut as Aarktica, the very fine indeed No Solace in Sleep, was relatively acclaimed. That album is certainly striking, given that DeRosa was struggling to cope with the "underwater" experience and auditory hallucinations brought on by the permanent, nerve damage-inflicted loss of hearing in his right ear. Even better was his 2002 contribution to Darla Records' Bliss Out series, ...Or You Could Just Go Through Your Whole Life and Be Happy Anyway. Moving away from the glacial, droning guitar ambience that's either DeRosa's specialty or cross to bear, that album saw him embracing electronics and song structure to the same ends as his more expressly ambient albums.
Aarktica's music has ploughed the fertile grounds between those two poles ever since, but 2009's In Sea (yes, a pun on Terry Riley's seminal In C; DeRosa also names a track after his teachers LaMonte Young and Marian Zazeela while we're playing inside baseball) marks the starkest Aarktica LP since No Solace in Sleep, and maybe the best one he's ever done.
This time it's just DeRosa, some guitars, something called a Bilhorn Telescopic Pump Organ, and a lot of time and space. It's amazing what he can conjure up with such basic ingredients: "Young Light" is as surgingly optimistic as "Corpse Reviver No. 2" is quietly mournful as "When We're Ghosts" is contorted with remorse as "I Am (The Ice)" is majestically remote, and so on. The two vocal tracks here should be the easiest to parse, but the closing cover of Danzig's "Am I Demon?" transmutes a song that was, frankly, kind of silly into something genuinely sobering in its self-examination, and the lovely "Hollow Earth Theory" makes a narrative out of retreat, both sonic (those unwinding, reversed guitar lines) and lyrically (it's almost entirely about withholding judgment). Both songs are welcome additions, but they function almost as signposts sticking out of the wintry bulk of In Sea, a little something to help you get your bearings.
For the most part, you're instead confronted with marvels like the eight minutes of "A Plague of Frost (In the Guise of Diamonds)," DeRosa's best approximation of what it's like to be inside of his head. That proves to be a disorienting but strangely peaceful place, although unlike DeRosa the listener always has the option of turning In Sea off. As good as the graceful arc of this album's gentler tracks are, it's a good thing that DeRosa varies things more than he has in the past, with the shorter, punchier "Onward!" and "Young Light" marking out territory somewhere between the brighter sides of Eluvium and the Durutti Column. The result is both a kind of clearinghouse of what DeRosa can do and a masterclass in why he's great. Now people just need to start paying attention.
01. I Am (The Ice)
03. Hollow Earth Theory
04. A Plague of Frost (In the Guise of Diamonds)
05. In Sea
07. Young Light
09. Corpse Reviver No. 2
11. When We're Ghosts
12. Am I Demon?