Insect Ark- Portal/Well

By Chris Dahlberg

Published on Monday, May 11, 2015

Insect Ark may be a relatively recent project, but creator Dana Schechter has been exploring a wide variety of musical territory over the years. Schechter has been a part of Angels of Light along with Bee and Flower in the past, with Insect Ark serving as her primary musical endeavor since 2011. Compared to some of the previous records she’s been involved with, the material on the Portal/Well full length heads into darker territory that sometimes hits the unease and dread of a doom or drone record while other times simply giving off a warmer, introspective feeling that goes off in a completely different direction. It’s an entirely instrumental effort that offers numerous twists and turns from one song to the next, and anyone with a taste for somber, moodier music will likely find themselves completely enveloped in all the textures this album has to offer.

Portal/Well served as my first time listening to Insect Ark in depth, as I had come across the name before but had only heard a few bits and pieces of 2013’s Long Arms EP. It only took one time through to get hooked by this material, as the interplay between each of the instrumentals creates absorbing soundscapes that often blur the line between ominous and inviting. The title track starts things off with a driving programmed beat that has an industrial feel, over which the synths and bass twist and turn. It’s the type of piece where each element is stretched out over time, creating a thicker atmosphere as each minute passes and encouraging the listener to peel back each layer and pay attention to individual melodies and bursts of synth. Schechter’s bass lines and the drums serve as the core of the material, with lap steel guitar and synthesizer filling out the rest of the sound. But even with these common elements, the compositions change so frequently that it never sounds as though Portal/Well is retreading the same ground.

It’s hard to truly place Insect Ark into one particular genre, as there is so much ground covered here. When the programmed drums kick up and the tonality heads into a darker, sinister direction there is plenty that could entice fans of doom and sprawling drone. But within this darker, drearier sound there are plenty of moments that have a hopeful feeling and transition from that sense of unease. “Octavia” is a perfect example, as while the melodies hover over the rest of the instrumentation like a ghost, it’s in more of a wistful, thought provoking manner than a terrifying or dreadful one. It’s during this track that live drums are utilized and the patterns utilize a jazzier style that stand out in stark contrast with the deliberate, mechanical nature of the programming from the earlier pieces. You might think that this sounds like a lot to take in over the course of a forty two minute album, and while it will take several times through to feel out all of the nuances the sheer amount of atmosphere gives the record some immediacy and encourages you to dive right in.

When instrumental albums are done well, no matter what genres they encompass, they’re capable of taking listeners on a journey that they’ll want to give their full attention over to. Schechter has proven that she’s more than capable of pulling this off, as Portal/Well is a stunning achievement that perfectly balances darker and twisted atmospherics with surprisingly hopeful and nostalgic moments. Each of the pieces weaves a very different narrative, and with styles that span everything from chilling doom to jazzier instrumental rock the amount of depth that Insect Ark has provided is truly impressive.

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