AMN Reviews: Olivia Block – Innocent Passage in the Territorial Sea (2021; Room40)

The title, as well as the artwork to Oliva Block’s latest album is…deceiving.  The high-key photo of a sea-faring vessel floating serenely on a calm, flat body of water with either a small Island (or maybe that’s a glacier) in the near distance immediately elicits thoughts of serenity and peacefulness.  The music; well not so much.

Let’s look at this a different way.  The vessel is icebound and stranded, held fast in the frigid cold grip of a sea transforming itself into a desolate ice field.  A sun, slowly blotted out by humanity’s excesses’ refuses to provide its warm sustenance to a world rapidly descending towards frozen dark grey nothingness.  My experience after several listening’s of Innocent Passage in the Territorial Sea leans decidedly towards this door number two.

Obviously, pandemic-influenced art is going to have its dark edges, often rooted in speculative fiction tropes.  On this release…Block’s dark edges are drawn with one of those mondo, uber rank and putrid, king-sized black Sharpies.  The composer states that during lockdown, much of her listening was done while on psychedelic mushrooms with the intention of achieving a maximum somatic awareness.  What better way to achieve this than to key into the bass frequencies?  You want to feel it in your body?  Embrace the deeps!

It’s no wonder that the pieces on this album have a significant synthesized bass presence.  What’s particularly notable is how this subterranean foundation contrasts with the higher-end layers of sonic mayhem above it.  Tracks like “Axiolite” and (especially) “Laika” positively scream in their intensity while later tracks smolder and burn in their own “end of days” mind movie sequence.  Block lays impossibly thick blankets of sound/drone over this low-end bedrock leaving a berserker-like wasteland in its wake.

Is Innocent Passage in the Territorial Sea a red pill, force fed to the listener during these times?  You’ll have to tell me.  What I can say is that it’s one of the finest, albeit ill-boding pieces of modern sound art I’ve heard in a while.  My highest recommendation!

Mike Eisenberg
Twitter: @Bigaudio999