The dub techno naturalist pays tribute to Vancouver Island.
Does it matter that he's been in a similar creative space for pretty much his whole career? There is obviously no final word on this. One view could be, why change a winning formula? And it has often been a winning formula. 2013's Pacifica was something of a dub techno classic. Its atmospheres, depth and evocations of nature were enough to swallow the lister whole. 2016's Over The Mountains, Sauer's second album for Silent Season, was also an inspired LP. But the strength of these records also highlights a problem with his approach. As an artist continually draws from the same sounds and themes as in the past, a stark, direct comparison becomes inevitable, and in this respect The Island unfortunately comes up a bit short.
The reasons for this are sometimes as elusive as nature itself, like considering why some vistas stir the soul more than others. There isn't a moment on The Island that isn't somehow pretty. Sauer's dub techno synths shimmer as always, the atmospheres are rich and expansive, and his style is forever welcoming. There is, however, a sprinkle of magic missing. Pacifica created emotions and moments that, although incredibly subtle, could stop you in your tracks; as listenable as The Island often is, the same can't be said here. At times it feels as though the tracks are doing sublime dub techno rather than being sublime dub techno.
If Pacifica and Over The Mountains had never been made, my view on this album could have been different. Or put another way, there is still plenty here to soak up. The way the strings and guitar eventually emerge on "Mirage" creates one of the record's most arresting passages. The sharp bassline on "Desolation Sound" contrasts really nicely with the string swells that, again, make a majestic late entrance. A smart arrangement is also crucial to "Midnight Dip," where a quietly dramatic scene unfolds. Throughout the album, you might sense your mind drifting towards forests or fields, even without the prompt of its concept. Once there, however, the familiarity of the view might lessen the impact.