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On “Seven Seas,” Emancipator Dives Deep, Sails Far, Stays Chill (Review)

On “Seven Seas,” Emancipator Dives Deep, Sails Far, Stays Chill (Review)

Written by Kevin Madert

These days, Doug Appling should be feeling pretty good about himself. In less than a decade, the man better known as Emancipator has grown from a promising young producer & performer into a well-respected, scene-renowned artist with a slew of stellar releases under his belt. He’s founded Loci Records, a music label which he utilizes to curate some of the finest sounds trip-hop and downtempo have to offer. He’s started a band – the eponymous Emancipator Ensemble – and toured the world, allowing him to reinterpret his studio-based music in a live setting. And now he’s stuck another feather in his plumage-laden cap with his fourth full-length album, Seven Seas.

The experimentation and maturation we first saw on 2012’s Dusk To Dawn continues here. Like a track and field star working his way from single events to the all-encompassing decathlon, Appling’s arsenal seems to grow with each subsequent release. From the gentle, intentioned bounce of album opener “All In Here” to the closing notes of the slow-building, multi-faceted “Barnacles,” Seven Seas is a work of serious merit from a producer both comfortable within his self-defined musical boundaries and eager to push against them in all possible directions. His ear for that intangible sonic space between steady chill and forward progression is also stronger than ever – the hurried, echoing guitar anchoring “Delta Trance” and frenetic violin-led, bass-drum backed breakdowns on “The Key” attest to that.

Of course, it never hurts to have good friends, and on Seven Seas Appling showcases his excellent choice in musical mates. Aside from longtime collaborator Ilya Goldberg – whose silken violin tones feature on five tracks – a plethora of additional guest appearances go miles in adding depth and texture throughout the album. “Canopy,” with its non-traditional percussion courtesy of Cedar Miller & Jamie Janover, plus the heavily augmented vocal work of Amy Obensky, is one of the album’s most fully realized songs. And while lyrics have rarely factored in Emancipator’s catalog, vocalists Molly Parti and Madelyn Grant prove they fit snugly into the puzzle, lending their talents to personal album highlights “Land & Sea” and “Seven Seas,” respectively.

Above all, it’s worth noting the entirety of Seven Seas exists on the same metaphorical tapestry. Thanks to little, seemingly inconsequential details – the occasional lapping of waves against the shore, guitars fed through effects pedals as if being played underwater, synths manipulated to create aural ebbs and flows – guide us through the album in one coherent trip. Chalk it up to a deftly crafted, purposeful ambiance – something Appling has explored, tested, and honed from day one. In 2006, Soon It Will Be Cold Enough took us on a melancholy, introspective stroll through snow-covered hills and woodlands. Four years later, Safe In The Steep Cliffs found us even deeper in the wilderness, a dark and often somber place. A few years after that, Dusk To Dawn saw us forgo the woods for a crackling bonfire at the water’s edge, feeling at many moments more upbeat and sporting some of Emancipator’s lushest production to date.

And now we have Seven Seas, wherein we abandon the safety of the shore in favor of the contemplative endlessness of the 0cean. Once more, Doug Appling has put painstaking effort into the conceptualization, writing, recording, and post-production of an album – perhaps his best to date.

You can grab a copy of Seven Seas now through all the standard channels (Bandcamp | iTunes | Physical copy). Emancipator is also currently on an extended North American tour in support of the album, with Yppah & Wax Tailor(*) / Blockhead & Manatee Commune(^) along for the ride – check the full schedule below + purchase tickets right here.

Seven Seas North American Tour Dates

10/14/15 – Burlington, VT @ Higher Ground*
10/15/15 – Boston, MA @ Paradise Rock Club*
10/16/15 – Philadelphia, PA @ Theater of the Living Arts*
10/17/15 – New York, NY @ PlayStation Theater (formerly Best Buy)*
10/18/15 – Buffalo, NY @ Town Ballroom*
10/20/15 – Pittsburgh, PA @ Rex Theater*
10/21/15 – Cleveland, OH @ Beachland Ballroom*
10/22/15 – Indianapolis, IN @ The Vogue*
10/23/15 – Grand Rapids, MI @ The Intersection*
10/24/15 – Detroit, MI @ Fillmore Detroit*
10/27/15 – St. Louis, MO @ The Ready Room*
10/28/15 – Columbia, MO @ The Blue Note*
10/29/15 – Madison, WI @ Majestic Theatre*
10/30/15 – Milwaukee, WI @ The Miramar Theater*
10/30/15-11/1/15 – Chicago, IL @ Freaky Deaky
10/31/15 – Minneapolis, MN @ Mill City Nights*
11/10/15 – Bellingham, WA @ Wild Buffalo^
11/11/15 – Victoria, BC @ Sugar Nightclub^
11/12/15 – Vancouver, BC @ Venue Nightclub^
11/13/15 – Portland, OR @ Roseland Theater^
11/14/15 – Seattle, WA @ Showbox Market^
11/15/15 – Eugene, OR @ Hi-Fi Music Hall^
11/17/15 – Ashland, OR @ Ashland Armory^
11/18/15 – Santa Cruz, CA @ The Catalyst^
11/19/15 – San Francisco, CA @ Regency Ballroom^
11/20/15 – Los Angeles, CA @ Regent Theater^
11/22/15 – Pomona, CA @ The Glass House^

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