The name Dolphins Into The Future conjures up a host of mental images, not all of them enthusiastically received. It’s a phrase that one can imagine accompanying airbrushed artwork on the side of a van during the 1980s, a sprawling So Long And Thanks For All the Fish-inspired mural featuring cetaceans floating through the cosmos. A post on Underwater Peoples’ blog cites Windham Hill Records as an inspiration, which seems among the least likely candidates for hipster rediscovery. (“Coming next year to All Tomorrow’s Parties: George Winston plays Forest in its entirety.”) And yet this project, the latest from Lieven Moana’s aquatically-named project, impresses far more than it frustrates.
Canto Arquipélago takes a little while to accumulate steam; the first minute or so is spent hovering at low volume before structures can be detected. What eventually emerges, though, is a strange auditory collage. Occasionally, the melodies ebb away to crickets chirping and birdsong. At first, it seems to be a naturalistic touch, but on further consideration Moana’s aims seem stranger, a juxtaposition of pastoral sounds from different times of day. It’s less of a lull than a subtly impossible landscape, one whose internal contradictions only reveal themselves on deeper consideration.
The album doesn’t entirely cohere. “Azul” eventually descends into off-key noodling on the keyboard. (The offhand feel of this album sometimes works against itself.) At other times, that casual sensibility leads to a section that’s more striking, such as the wavering evocation of a melodica that pops up a third of the way into “Levante.” In that particular case, it eventually subsumes itself into a slowly rhythmic noctural melody, evoking a moody mid-’80s period piece; a kind of restrained flipside to Chromatics’ recent Moroder-inspired propulsion.
Moana has said this album draws inspiration from the Azores, and those naturalistic themes — as well as a sense of isolation — pervade this album. Canto Arquipélago ultimately feels ephemeral, dissolving back into the same silence from which it emerged. And while this album does have its frustrating qualities, the points at which it approaches a sense of tranquil bliss far outweigh them.