Madeline Cocolas, “Spectral”
By Ted Davis · July 15, 2022 Merch for this release:
Compact Disc (CD)

Madeleine Cocolas is a composer based in Brisbane, Australia. She crafts tasteful ambient music that toes the line between oblique electronic and sprawling neoclassical. While Cocolas’s output definitely leans into the tropes of some pretty familiar genres, her entrancing albums tend to be all over the stylistic map: 2020’s Ithaca dabbled in downtempo electronica, and the 2015 release Cascadia lingered in the stylish gray area between Laurel Halo and Philip Glass. Meanwhile, June’s three-track collection, A Memory, Blown out, was inspired by hindsight and the machine world. But regardless of what atmosphere Cocolas is trying to construct, her music is united by a sparkly sonic palette. Therefore, the pink and white plumes of digitized fog that adorn the cover of her latest full-length Spectral seem fitting. Put out by multimedia artist Lawrence English’s iconic label Room 40, Cocolas’s new record is fairly subdued. But don’t get it twisted—these tracks rarely stay in the same place for long.

Spectral is defined by a sense of motion, which is best exemplified on the closer “Rip.” The piece opens with jazzy guitar flourishes that bring to mind Bill Evans or Grant Green. But by the end, it’s disintegrated into washes of overcast, somewhat jagged synthesis, which add a retrospectively unsettling element of placidity to its slinky opening licks. A similar gravitation towards progression courses through tracks like “Spectral,” “Resonance,” and “Enfold.” In fact, the only real examples of stereotypical drone music come with the seraphic opener “A Memory, Blown Out,” as well as on the dissonant post-musique concrète odyssey “In Waves.” And whether it’s brooding and coarse or baroque and refined, every cut on Spectral sounds meticulously toiled over.

Even the most gripping ambient music often lets itself fall into cycles of repetition. Cocolas sets herself apart, thanks to well-honed techniques that keep one foot in the world of classical and another in the realm of experimental. It’s a sophisticated dichotomy, which feels shaped by her standing as a “casual academic” in the music department at Brisbane’s University of Queensland.

As a whole, Spectral is a melodic affair, but it was actually built on a bed of sounds that Cocolas collected from her immediate surroundings. Phone recordings of industrial machines, crickets, storms, and other organic textures pitter-patter beneath these swirling aural universes—they help the album remain tethered to the perception of personhood, even when it becomes more traditional and scholastic. Existing at the intersection of subjectivity and intention, Spectral is a mesmerizing exploration of stillness, perception, and memory.

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