The Brussels-based duo present their new LP on the KrysaliSound label, and it’s a perfect home for their fusion of guitar drones, field recordings and hushed vocals. Since 2011 Tropic of Coldness have pursued a blissed-out take on harmonic ambience that folds ethereal elements into their compositions. There are rarely any sharp edges on their output, only the smoothest of shapes inhabit their sculpted sounds.
Maps of Reason is minimal yet layered, each wash of sound added with the utmost of care so as not to overload the senses, but instead placate them. The album begins with “The beauty and the meaning”, on which long-drawn guitar lines are aglow with reverb. Each note takes its time to unfold, never rushed, and an exercise in restraint is evident as new sounds are slowly added. Synths are bled into the track to subtle effect, but stripped away towards the end as single guitar notes are plucked, the spaces between them stretching further and further apart until the emptiness becomes silence.
This is followed by the title track, and from the get-go there is an extra layer of texture, as the sound of footsteps crunching through snow or leaves is heard under the drones. The guitar playing is from the school of Windy & Carl, where melancholic chords are allowed to delay into a state of dissolve before new ones are strummed. This glacial pace is rewarding for the listener, like taking deep breaths into a relaxing calm. More field recordings merge with slightly more aggressive guitar playing as the track comes to an end, and this shakes things up a bit, just before we get too comfortable.
“The loss of empathy” continues along this vein, a little darker at times but never claustrophobic. It creates a sense of stasis, music that goes nowhere too far, but just exists as is, and allows the listener to float on its buoyancy for the duration.
Final track “Diving for pearls” is well named, as it plunges deep into still waters. Those single guitar notes make a return, casting brighter light on the surface. Those waters become a little choppier as the track evolves, as motion stirs in the drones, but we’re never lost at sea. As the album ends, it feels like we’ve been in a warm cocoon of sound, and this consistent, unified sound is the strength of this album.