Tympanik Audio (TD019), 2014
Far removed from the interstellar glitchery of Rise, their 2008 debut, Integral’s second full-length, titled Sercosa, is among the most nuanced releases I’ve heard in some time. David Rotter and Rafael Milatz have shed the IDM trappings of their prior work and settled into a niche somewhere between ambient and electro, full of wandering washes and tones but with a definite sense of place and identity. For a project with few releases to their credit, Integral has shown a firm grasp of the technical, the atmospheric, and the narrative, and Sercosa showcases their considerable talents crackling at new volumes.
Not that Sercosa is loud or blatant. Quite the opposite. There’s no drama on the level of “Schlaflos” or “Moonwalk” here; Rotter and Milatz have increased the subtlety while decreasing the noise. And yet, for all its hushed beauty, Sercosa – too beat-sparse to be IDM but too structured to be ambient – is rife with activity, with a constantly shifting tapestry of tones and tiny whispers of detail. “Haunting Voices” is a prime example of this, with a foundation that’s so muted as to be almost unheard, only to be brought to attention when it fades out completely. Enfolding this is a haze of electronic mystery – snatches of speech, clicks and whirs, minute keyboards, distant drums – that serve to involve the listener and expand the hidden mythology that Integral has created.
And yes, I believe there is a definite narrative structure to Sercosa; it’s just that we haven’t been given the entire picture. Unlike, say, the subterranean alien vaults of R|A|A|N, Sercosa takes a different path: that of the unexplored depths of the jungles, rain forests, and swamps that teem with wonder and mystery. There’s a strong Spanish or South American flavor to Sercosa; beyond track titles such as “Madea”, “Scarisoara,” and “Santa Georgia”, not to mention “The Aboriginal River,” there are sequences of wavering plucked guitar and gentle hand-percussion threaded throughout the dreamstuff woven by Rotter and Milatz with such existential care. There’s a certain sense of progression to the album as well, as the sounds move deeper into the steaming uncharted territories of Earth’s green-wrapped realms towards the album’s conclusion. The ambiance of the rain forest is enhanced on “Fragments of Beauty” and “The Aboriginal River,” with the songs of birds and insects, the flowing of water, the gentle sounds of rain and distant thunder, and chirps of animals becoming the focus, while the electronics begin to fade into the background. It’s as if the listener initially becomes aware of some singular mystery or goal, and follows it as the album plays, finally reaching the hidden places of Sercosa’s world at the journey’s end.
However, this is no tribal piece of New Age music. Milatz and Rotter don’t take so obvious a path, but inject a certain darkness into their synthetics; the loops and repeated sequences are just haunting and mechanical enough (“Insight in an Unseizable World,” “Madea”) to keep Sercosa from emerging fully into the light, or becoming too organic. “Scarisoara,” perhaps the album’s most absorbing track, utilizes a regular but hidden bass drum as its backbone, while sampled drums patter about and portentous passes take shape and dissolve. The rattling snares and near-frantic pulses of “Santa Georgia” hint at something unsettling, but the sense drains away before becoming full-blown anxiety. Tread cautiously, it seems to say. And yet, Sercosa is no odyssey of menace; it’s clear there’s no pale amorphous Lovecraftian presence thrashing about in the forested hollows. What the journey actually means, and what is discovered and learned, is left to the listener to decide.
While Sercosa might not feature the same obvious highlights as Rise or the 2011 retrospective The Past Is My Shadow, it’s Integral’s most cohesive and confident work. It’s a concept album – the type of ambient album I love most – but the concept isn’t fully defined. There is, without a doubt, something unknown buried deep within the untrodden places of the world, and with this remarkable, inspiring, masterfully crafted album, Integral has given us the tiniest of glimpses. I fully admit that I did not expect this depth of experience from Integral. Along with TeHOM’s astounding album Lacrimae Mundi, Sercosa is one of the year’s biggest surprises.