Swaying and buckling under the pressure of the ocean's currents, Xela's new offering, The Dead Sea, is a magnificent stab at sonically rendering the sinister underbelly of that sprawling expanse of salt water. Xela (a pseudonym for Mancunian John Twells) does this by digitally weaving together snippets of sound, creating aural collages that have both great depth and subtlety. "The Gate" serves as an access point of ominous drones and strings accompanied by moments of percussive rattling and tinkling. It sets the stage for the heavy atmosphere that follows.
Yet, this isn't all about the dour. In fact, the relenting of more somber moments to allow the development of captivating lighter melodies is the album's real strength. "Linseed" and "Savage Ritual" function in this way. Their juxtaposition with the gloomy feel of the majority of the album enhances their buoyant qualities and makes them stand out as moments of bliss — breaks in the clouds over a stormy sea. Even within the darker tracks, instances of beauty emerge, like the xylophone line that closes out "A Floating Procession." And these moments don't undercut the project of the album; rather, they enhance it, making it a more full-bodied affair. So often with ambient material, an entire album will go by with very little change in texture or mood, but Xela's work has those delicates shifts that will keep a listener coming back. This may be intended largely as background music, but it's worthy of foreground attention.