Celer has been at the forefront of ambient music for over a decade now, with an enormous discography spanning dozens of releases. Fellow American John Daniel has been making music as Forest Management for almost as long. Their new collaboration “Landmarks” takes inspiration from the book and film Mosquito Coast, the story of a man who abandons the American way of life for a remote coastal region of Honduras but becomes increasingly obsessed, with tragic consequences for him and his family. Snippets from both versions of the tale are heard at various points across the album, but the narrative is not spelled out and connections with the music mostly remain below the surface.
As the opening soft, ethereal drone hovers at the edge of perception, you’d be forgiven for thinking you’d landed slap-bang in the middle of Celerland. From then on, however, the album takes several detours: birds sing tunefully in a loop over an echoing thud; distant thunder and clatter draws out a gurgling in the deep; grand, majestic melodic refrains are bathed in shimmering light. There are plenty of warm ambient drones to be heard, with indistinct, barely-there textures and endless repetition marking tracks such as ‘Indistinguishable from magic’ and ‘Volcanic institutions’. But there are also moments of greater resolve and certainty, as with the plodding drone of ‘Hotel Mona Lisa’, and unexpected twists and turns such as the faint echoes of previous drones in ‘S-shaped isthmus’. I found it impossible to tell which creative choices originated with which artist, such is the seamlessness with which their respective contributions are woven together.
Ultimately I hear no judgement on Mosquito Coast‘s flawed would-be hero, even as his high-minded ideals lead him down a slippery slope of violence and obsession. The tumbling four-note refrain and singing high-pitched exclamation of the closing track ‘Rights of the idea or a machine’ could be interpreted equally easily as elegiac or as tragic. Either way, this is an album that, despite its frequent lushness, still manages to unsettle and provoke, as the best ambient drone music can.