I once read somewhere that Seattle has the second largest municipal ferry system in the world, connecting the city to other population centers around Puget Sound, but also distant locations including Port Angeles, Friday Harbor, and even Victoria, BC. Whether that stat is true or not, water is a defining feature in the area's geography, and sometimes aquatic themes flood into the Seattles's musical aesthetic, too. For instance, Secret School (the moniker of electronic producer Andrew Sutherland) titled his new album Ambergris, and the cover art features Deception Pass, a park 90 minutes north of the city. He even found a way to weave ferry-based field recordings into an interlude. But water talk aside, at its core Secret School's Ambergris is a beautiful interweaving of acoustic piano, synthesizer, ethereal vocals, and pulsating beats. Over 51 minutes, the artist uses these tools to sculpt soft and beautiful melodies.
Secret School has expressed a love of both ambient and dance music, and on Ambergris, his unique blending of these genres with neoclassical and house shines through. One might be tempted to site Dntel as a peer, given Sub Pop's NW classic, but a closer comparison is Niklas Paschburg's 2018 Oceanic. Both Sutherland and Paschburg's music feels tidal, building slowly, gradually rising, and then gently receding. In fact, on Ambergris, Sutherland began sketches of songs on piano before eventually adding percussion in order to emulate waves and spray. Because of this, completed productions have this organic, breathing life - the artist's ultimate intention. A sure sign of a good album, it is difficult to point to highlight tracks, as the 12 compositions wash over the listener as one unified piece. That being said, the middle third of the album including the planetary tracks Mercury and Neptune, as well as Sulaco Helm / Vespers is especially excellent. Listen to Ambergris in its entirety this Friday, as it's out through the consistently impressive Hush Hush Records. You can find it here for purchase and listen to an edit of the lead single below.