If you had forgotten about the existence of electronic duo Immersion (or indeed if you weren’t even aware of their existence), then you might be forgiven considering they haven’t released an album in 17 years. The duo – Malka Spigel and Colin Newman – have hardly been idle during all this time though. The pair have busy lives in the music world; Spigel has released a number of solo album as well as reforming with her band Minimal Compact while Newman has been enjoying the spotlight with Wire, who have also released a number of well-received albums in the intervening years. (The pair has also been working together as half of the electronic outfit Githead.) Considering their output – both separate and together – has been admirably and impressively regular over the years, one might even argue that it’s amazing they found the time to come back to and release music as Immersion.
Immersion make music that fondles the line between electronic and ambient, music that refuses to sit comfortably in the background while also never speaking louder than a conversational tone. There are no hooks per se, but their “songs” have a way of drawing you in, stimulating your thought process without ever taking all your focus away from whatever else you might be doing while listening to them. Their new album, Analogue Creatures Living On An Island, continues this trend, adding in a few different tones and instruments, but still sounding warmly familiar.
Perhaps the most noticeable different is the inclusion of guitars into the mix, which is present from the beginning of the album as opening track “Always The Sea” fades into view, like a warm mist during the sunrise. Its strummed strings add a human edge to the mix, a frayed edge to the cool glide of analogue synths before stabs of additional, distorted guitar appear. On “Shapeshifters” a 12-string guitar riff is fed through an organ pedal, creating an undulating backbone to the track that bellows like whalesong, while on “Organic Cities” pensive guitar strums mix with the simmering synths to form a moody tension. Contrasting that is “Spinner,” where an upright bass brings a jazzy, elastic back and forth bounce to the cyclical synths that shimmer like sunlight catching your eyes through a rain shower in the height of summer.
Like the title suggests, though (and like has always been the case with Immersion), Analogue Creatures is about the analogue synths, and in this album’s case, it centres around the addition of an Arturia Microbrute analogue synthesiser, which Newman bought last year. The pair combined it with the gear and equipment they already use to build upon their sound world. Too often the sounds of each instrument and machine are too distorted to recognise which noise comes from where, but the mystery is part of the draw here: not knowing the origin of the sounds adds an unspecific allure to the music. “Nanocluster” flutters by, like the soundtrack to a Hollywood epic about a robotic uprising; “Mechanical Creatures” buzzes and grinds, like machinery working away; and “Slow Light” shines with a metallic edge. The futuristic, machine-driven, automated edge of the music lingers hard, but is never far from a more organic sound.
Analogue Creatures thrives on this push/pull of noise that sounds natural and mechanical; the album brings to mind a far off world coming to life over time, from the bubbling primordial soup that is “Mechanical Creatures”’ lower end, to the heavenly light that breaks through the cloudy synth chords on “Living On An Island.” The album is its own self-contained world, and is easy to slip in and out of at the listener’s leisure. Some tracks absorb the listener better, especially the aforementioned “Spinner” with its constant motion and bright disposition. “Fireflys” shimmers and dazzles too, as Spigel finds her way around a gamelan set while “Shapeshifters” moves forward with dead-eyed purpose. Analogue Creatures is a whole though, and anyone who enjoys active ambient music (or is just happy that Immersion are back) will find something be absorbed by here.