SQE: The Abyss Stares Back

SQE, who in real life goes by the name of J Greco, has produced an album of longish, folky variations on an ambient theme. Amber Asylum’s Kris Force contributes guest vocals on “Jorinda X” and “The Wondrous Boat Ride,” emoting like a dark angel around Greco’s dreamlike soundscapes. Light touches of dulcimer and tubular bells add to the crepuscular atmosphere, evoking the more liturgical moments of Dead Can Dance.

Clocking in at around six minutes each, both songs derive considerable power from their unhurried stillness and quiet, gradual accumulation of detail. Greco draws out similarly extended moods in the instrumental tracks “Epitaph 1” and “Diamond,” but these are largely shorn of the ritualistic elements that make the songs so bewitching. As a result, they lack focus and direction. Things pick up somewhat on “Epitaph 2,” whose clammy drones are disrupted by slashing electric guitar.

Given Greco’s careful attention to detail on these pieces, it’s both surprising and unfortunate that he also chooses to include a song like “Cat” on the album. Here Danielle Hlatky’s breathy alto delivers a clunky lyric including such gems as “your heart regulates the flow of oxygen to the brain,” while the melody is sullied by a lumpen tuba accompaniment. The following “1974,” however, is excellent – propelled by bubbling organ and a racy synth groove, it brings a vertiginous, dubby edge to proceedings. In sum, the disc thankfully doesn’t attempt to live up to the grandiose promise of its title, and is an alluring if uneven collection of nocturnal moments.

(Originally published in The Sound Projector 13, 2005)

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