Dive Index is a creative outlet for producer Will Thomas. The Surface We Divide is the second album he's released under this name (Mid/Air is the first). Thomas is active in the electronic music scene as a composer and producer. The Dive Index albums are developed through a directed collaborative process: Thomas pulls together a set of musical ideas, which he sends out to a set of vocalists. This time, the singers included Joseph Arthur, Cat Martino, Mark Gardener (Ride), and Patrick Cooper. Through email and file exchanges, parts are developed and Thomas assembles the pieces with instrumental tracks.
The committee style approach succeeds because Will Thomas has a good ear as he pulls the vocal contributions into his musical web. These vocal parts are key to The Surface We Divide, from the call and response setup of Blind and Closed or the emotional depth on Puppet Spinning.
Dive Index blurs genre somewhere between dream pop, shoegaze, and indie pop, with emphasis on dreamy vocal processing. The integration of analog instruments (acoustic guitar, bass, cello, and drums) with the electronic sounds of drum machines, synths, and keyboards is very interesting. The two sides complement each other; organic breath meets rich tonal soundscapes.
Interesting rhythms fall out of the looping arrangements. The music uses repetition to build a variety of moods from tension to obsession to meditation. A couple of songs (Blink and Answers) even build a gamelan effect through Thomas' layering technique.
The lead off track, Cut, is a laid back groove centered on harmonized falsetto soulful vocals. The singing reminds me of Long Train Running (Doobie Brothers). The electronic underpinnings and looped parts create a richly layered sound. The song is dreamy and distant, with a sense of surrender packed under cotton. Listen past the rhythmic complexity and make sure to catch the bass work and subtle organ fills.
Looping can create some intriguing beats as parts play against one another. Agatha uses looping to create complexity out of a few easy parts and tonal textures. The lyrics are simple and the vocals are more immediate, but the vocal repetition lets the voice become another instrumental element ("We were waiting for a bomb to fall...").
The Surface We Divide is a satisfying experience of an album. Pour a glass of Brunello Di Montalcino and savor them both.