Typically I think of the expanse of the Pacific Ocean and I start to feel a little insignificant. Don’t get me wrong, there is an absolute and awe-inspiring beauty in a large body of water like the Pacific, or for even my neck of the woods Lake Michigan. Standing on the shore line at the bottom of the bluff in South Haven, staring out into the steely gray lake on an overcast day lays a kind of permanence on you not found anywhere else. Standing on the shoreline is like being on the cusp of another universe waiting to be discovered. That endless underwater world and seemingly endless horizon is overwhelming to me. I never feel so small as I do looking out over a large body of water.
When I first stepped into the musical world Oceanography by Craig Aalders, I wondered if the overwhelming expanse of the ocean would come over me. In fact, the complete opposite happened. Aalders’ new album is like a warm blanket that covers you on a cold winter night. From first song to last you feel a depth of peace and serenity as Craig Aalders explores the beauty of the ocean and a contentment with giving in to its power and majesty. Oceanography is an ambient record you can let yourself melt into.
Oceanography opens and closes with the sound of water. There’s an ethereal quality to beginning and ending an album with waves of blue hitting the shore. In-between those waves is a heady musical world that Craig Aalders has built from guitars(both acoustic and electric), synthesizers, and various effects. Tracks like “Pacific Bloom”, “Coastal Apparition”, and “Island Shimmer” all live in the ambient/new age musical landscape, but have their roots firmly dug into the heady experimental sounds of pioneers like Steve Reich, Carl Weingarten, and Terry Riley to a degree. Musicians and composers that broke new ground with their instruments and compositions by taking them to places they hadn’t been. The guitars and synthesizers are given a layer of delay, reverb, and modulation which allows them to have the feeling of sinking into the deep dark blue of the Pacific. Whales speak into the unknown back and forth and sonar-like tones break through countless miles of digital waters to reach our ears. “Sunlight Under Water” veers very close to even post-rock territory. Something like Sigur Ros mixing it up with This Will Destroy You in a geodesic dome in the Pacific Northwest.
Don’t confuse this album with those “nature sound” cassettes you might’ve found at your aunt’s house in the back room. You know, the room where incense permeates the air and wicker furniture while dreamcatchers dangle in front of the screened windows as wind chimes would break the silent monotony. This is not one of those albums. Craig Aalders has carefully crafted something deep and meaningful in this album of “west-coast inspired ambient music”.
Oceanography is a musical love letter to the immensity and overwhelming beauty of the Pacific Ocean. It’s a modern ambient record that begs for meditative uses and to be played for quiet moments of reflection. Craig Aalders sophomore release is a complex yet simple musical statement on the big blue we stare out at with awe. Whether an ocean or great lake, I think this album will work some serious magic on any frayed psyche.
7.9 out of 10