Lotic's latest immerses the listener in the briny depths, finds Will Ainsley

Hadal and abyssal zones are the deepest parts of the ocean. They are essentially light-free and experience massive hydrostatic pressure. The creatures that live there are strange and ghostly – liver-coloured cusk-eels with gooey skin, Giant Amphipods with a layer of aluminium hydroxide gel spread over their exoskeleton, or Aspidosiphon elegans, a type of peanut worm that can reproduce asexually. Lotic’s album Water is redolent of an organism that was forged in those same pressing, claustrophobic depths. There’s a subaqueous feel to its sonorous 808 sub-basses and synthesizer washes. It is an album that, like the ocean floor, hosts weird, jewel-like creations wreathed in darkness. Whereas Power, the American producer’s first album, is surface-facing, with twinkling synthesizers and restless, distorted percussion; Water almost revels in its own unearthliness, an alien introspection positioned somewhere between Odetta and Arca.

At times, this record is unmoored from constraints of harmony, rhythm, and structure. Although ‘deconstructed club music’ is one of those phrases that has been so overused it has become memeified, in this case it feels appropriate. Arrangements on Water can feel dissected to the point of laying in parts. Hi-hats tend to sizzle and spark before quietening. The dubsteppy siren stabs laid over the top of ‘Always You’ seem almost slapdash, a copy-and-paste job that stands at odds with the vocal and harp’s swooning melancholy. The opening track, ‘Wet’, opens with what sounds like a kick drum that’s been isolated on a DAW project, as if the song has literally been deconstructed.

From the moment that naked kick drum on ‘Wet’ opens the album, this is a record that includes silence as a key part of its sonic arsenal. The dynamics of ‘Oblivious’ include moments of pregnant silence, while the lonely harps and vocals in ‘Apart’ are isolated and stark. These instances mean the album feels not so much deconstructed as collapsed. Percussion seems squashed by the emotion in Lotic’s voice, the fragmentary rhythms on ‘Emergency’ reduced to a stumbling rimshot loop and a muted percussive churn that sounds like someone swilling water. Those metallic textures that pepper Water appear in dribs and drabs like marine snow, ephemeral and discarded.

The sound design is always excellent, with a complex, granular definition. You can hear every fold and kink in the incredible bass noise at the end of ‘Wet’. I’m reminded of the electronics on SebastiAn’s ‘Thirst’ album, so tangible they sound as if they have physical qualities like rust or grime. The glitchy static on ‘Apart’ crackles against your eardrums like you’re hugging a marathon finisher in a foil blanket. The arrangements often accumulate around one central element – the single kick drum on ‘Wet’ and ‘Diamond’ or the trombone-esque synth in ‘Come Unto Me’ – like a pearl collecting round a mote of grit. Lotic produces like a sonic scavenger, utilising tiny fragments and letting small refrains play out, shaping them into great wobbling edifices.

Much like the creatures in the deep places of the world, this album seems to have been made strange in isolation. Even Lotic’s eyes on the striking album cover have a certain bio-luminescent gleam. The soundscapes share the alien clarity of the seafloor, both completely still but somehow transitory as if a sudden change in the tide could wash it away. For instance, ‘Always You’ builds and builds with the all-consuming, purifying quality of ambient music. Grinding percussion is overlaid with oases of melody that shimmer into focus before evaporating, and the song crescendos before ending abruptly on a few half-heart harp tones and vocals that ring into silence. In the same way that a deep sea organism has adapted eyes to deal with lack of light, this album uses timbral counterpoints to mitigate its sonic extremes. Grimy plumes of distortion and glassy chimes foreground each other in ‘Come Unto Me’, while the spine-chilling high notes on ‘Diamond’ are followed by a husky murmur.

Like Scott Walker or Björk, Lotic’s vocals are often recorded dry without echo or reverb. They can seem like a strange, naked appendage, a lonely outpost in the fathoms-deep murk of muted kick drums and synth pads. The emotional intensity of the vocals is so much so that ‘Come Unto Me’ ends on a sharp intake of breath. Their repetition of the titular line in ‘Always You’ moves from seductive to hopeful to something accusatory and pained. Water often reminds me of Soused, the excellent Sunn O))) and Scott Walker collaboration. They are both albums where there seems to be so much unavoidable emotional distress on first listen but eventually it can sound exultant. The initial atonality is replaced by the surrender to a different way of treating harmony.

The last track ‘Diamond’ reframes the rest of the album. It begins with glissando vocal harmonies and strange vocalisations, before spiralling into abrasive crescendos that break out into a glorious moment of release. Rattling beats click in behind a gorgeous chord progression with a weird sense of resolution before Lotic’s genuinely beautiful sung high note keens and blazes in one of Water’s highpoints. In these final snatched moments Lotic seems finally at ease with their environs. They sing “I release you” after that moment of transcendent extrication in a way that reframes some of the isolation and loneliness of the record as independence.

Lotic talked in 2018 about “finding my own power… in my femininity”. In the video for lead single ‘Hunted’ from their Power album, Lotic drowns someone. The last shot of Lotic has them standing on the beach wearing a headdress in the pose of a maleficent water goddess. Water is an album that suggests a subsequent re-immersion and eventual self-sufficiency. They stand on the shore, framed by the waves and poised to enter the depths.

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