Dramatic; that is one word you could use to describe Cinderland, the debut release from High Plains—the collaborative effort of classically-trained cellist Mark Bridges and ambient and experimental musician Scott Morgan, who performs under the moniker loscil. The first album from this Canadian Pacific Northwest duo could serve as the score if your life were a movie, and every moment of it was filled with urgency, emotional anguish, and tension.

Bridges and Morgan originally crossed paths in Alberta three years ago. They began to collaborate in 2015, when Bridges recorded cello parts for Morgan’s app ADRIFT. Last year, the duo retreated to Saratoga, Wyoming (a town of less than 2,000 residents and a one-time home to writer Annie Proulx), where they spent two weeks recording the album in a refurbished schoolhouse.

Inspired by Schubert and the thin mountain air of the American West, the result of their work is an evocative blend that manages to pull elements from both classical/orchestral music, as well as ambient and experimental work, all while conjuring the stark imagery of a desolate winter spent in the western portion of the United States.

A relatively slender album—it clocks in at nine tracks—Bridges’ cello takes the lead for the majority of these pieces (one hesitates to call them “songs”) while Morgan seems content to lurk in the shadows, as he does with his work as loscil, providing additional instrumentation (piano and guitar, notably) and moody atmospherics, some taken from field recordings made in their remote Wyoming locale.

The duo wastes no time creating the tension and drama on Cinderland. The album’s opening title track begins with a low, ominous rumble from Bridges’ cello as Morgan’s piano comes trickling in over the top of it. The follow this with the icy sounding cello sweeps and atmospheric swells of “Blood That Ran the Rapids, the cinematic grandeur of “The Dusk Pines” and the terrifying dissonance and creeping paranoia of “A White Truck.”

The second half of the album begins on a much more restrained note, with the shimmering oscillation of “Ten Sleep.” Morgan and Bridges work to rebuild that dramatic tension, however slowly, with the glacially structured “Black Shimmer” and on the ominous “Hypoxia. Both are pieces that really showcase just how somber and haunting an instrument the cello can be in the right hands.

Cinderland concludes with something slow and striking in the short “Rushland,” before moving into “Song for A Last Night,” a song that finds Morgan pulling warm and mournful pulses from an electric piano as Bridges’ cello dances methodically around them.

For fans of Morgan’s ambient work as loscil, and for those who favor what is commonly referred to as “modern classical” music, Cinderland is a surprisingly effective mix of both worlds. It’s a heavy, morose listen, but impressive nevertheless to see how both artists were able to represent their chosen genres while exploring the textures that formed in the spaces between.

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