Morgan treats his subject with a mixture of reverence and wonder. As he employs guitar, piano, voice and other sounds, each new addition feels natural, like an addition to the stillness rather than a pebble in the pond. On "Bleeding Ink," female vocal tones are just another color in the palette, carefully painting a picture of creeping unease. "Iona," named for the famous sewer pipe that stretches for miles into the sea, Morgan uses bright chime sounds to contrast its aqueous flows. "Sea Island Murders" packs tension, conflict and resolution into its eight and a half minutes, flitting through drone and techno before closing with a passage of stark piano.
Just as Morgan's use of instrumentation is uncannily subtle, so is his work with percussion, which emerges again in the dub-techno pulse of "Angle Of Lull" and the disarmingly direct "Sturgeon Bank." A standout on the LP with grand pianos and widescreen melodies, "Sturgeon Bank" is triumphant but naggingly sad, straightforward but also immensely complex.
That sense of emotional ambiguity has always been at the heart of Morgan's work, but on Sea Island it's reinforced with stirring songwriting. There are so many layers, especially once you start to pick apart the times and places he's referencing—the nautical pull of "Ahull" and "Angle Of Lull," the deflated lilt of "Catalina 1943," written about the warplane factory. But you don't need to come from Vancouver, or do any research, to understand Sea Island's imposing, powerful appeal: music this haunting is more universal than local.