Album of the Day: Cruel Diagonals, “Disambiguation”

If Disambiguation isn’t the gothic ambient album of the summer, it’s certainly the ideal soundtrack for sunbathing alone on a float at an abandoned community pool. The debut studio LP from Cruel Diagonals—aka Oakland, California’s Megan Mitchell—spins operatic whirlpools of sound into oceans of whispery drones. Urgency is in very short supply here; the predominant vibe here is drift.

At times, it can be difficult to understand what Mitchell is actually singing; her diction is often overcome by feeling, and her malleable voice is one among many of the album’s sonic colors. On “Malaise Vague,” her voice is brought to the fore. The instrumental itself is drawn back and minimized, and there’s a sadness to her tone that feels like Enya in mourning. “Soporific Return,” by contrast, is lighter, with Mitchell’s languorous enunciations swimming through echoing, bell-like electronics. The tremulous “To Ward” is a vigorous remix or two away from being something that could fit comfortably on a playlist alongside Excepter’s Throne—an immersive, trippy album in its own right.

Standout “Render Arcane” is buoyed by a fleet, intricate percussive matrix that nudges Disambiguation, however briefly, towards the world of house music, suggesting one avenue the project could take in the future. Another possibility turns up on album closer “Intent to Vacate,” where the backdrop darkens into something rhythmic, monstrous, and groaning, while Mitchell’s voice, strident and strong, pulls away. What that voice has to say, in the album’s closing seconds, is unmistakable: “I give myself / It isn’t enough / Submission by omission.”

Raymond Cummings

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