A beloved ambient techno LP from 2002 is reissued on vinyl.
In the early '90s, ambient music had proliferated in clubs to counter the intensity of the era's dance floor highs. (As The KLF's Bill Drummond told X Magazine in 1991, it's music for the day after the rave.) But at the onset of the '00s, a few artists were attempting to broaden that "chill-out" mentality, creating a new kind of restful niche for ambient that wasn't explicitly tied to the club. Wolfgang Voigt, whose twin masterpieces Königsforst and Pop helped to reshape the genre, told Vice that ambient sound isn't just about relaxation, and that it exists in multiple states at once: "It can be pure, calm, dark, light, clean, dirty, full of harmony and devoid of it."
In 2001, records like Fennesz's Endless Summer, Tim Hecker's Haunt Me, Haunt Me Do It Again, and Stars Of The Lid's The Tired Sounds Of Stars Of The Lid took inspiration from neoclassical and post-rock music, and took ambient even further away from chill-out rooms and post-rave comedowns. William Basinski's The Disintegration Loops, completed on the morning of 9/11, created space for reflection in the wake of tragedy. The calm, intersecting surfaces of Submers are attuned to this sea change in the wider world of ambient music, offering respite not only from the club, but from an uncertain future.
Each track takes its name from a real submarine—the most famous of which is Kursk, a Russian nuclear sub that sank in the Barents Sea in 2000. "It seems so cheesy, looking back on it, making a record about submarines, but it's not really about submarines," Morgan told Red Bull Music Academy in 2016. "It's about that feeling of the weightlessness and the power and the danger of being underwater. But also the womb-like security of it too." Rather than sticking to the synths and samples that defined his first album, Triple Point, Morgan programmed his own sounds from scratch using Max/MSP. They form the basis for many of the album's prettiest moments. A steady trickle of arpeggiated clicks forms "Mute"'s central melody, and give structure to the formless, layered drones on "Triton."
Moments like these, where defined shapes meet cool, watery drones, are at the heart of Submers. No matter how abstract or ambient a track feels, there's always some kind of recurring instrumental to give it shape and keep it lively. Filtered percussion and a hiccuping bassline on "Nautilus" make for one of the album's most infectious rhythms. Crucially, that rhythm, rather than being overpowering, works in harmony with the track's gloomy drones. With atmospheres ranging from the slick and serene to the plodding and ominous, Submers's evocation of underwater life has a wide emotional range. But this approach is underpinned by an equal regard for fear, danger and death. "Water… can be so powerful and deadly," Morgan said. "I guess there's a part of me that really respects that."