Switched On: Cool Maritime – Big Earth Energy (Western Vinyl)

by Ben Hogwood

What’s the story?

Cool Maritime is a pseudonym for Santa Cruz musician Sean Hellfritsch. With a childhood spent outdoors in Californian orchards and canyons, he has perhaps not surprisingly fostered a deep concern for natural and environmental issues. His music is an extension of that, and Big Earth Energy builds on the success of last album Sharing Waves, released on LA’s Leaving Records. The name Cool Maritime reflects the bond he has felt with the northern coastal climates.

Hellfritsch had a concept for this album, looking back to 1995 and his first encounter with the game MYST. This time the player takes on the mantle of a prehistoric tree frog, changing ‘ages’ with each new level of the game and in the process finding out the massive changes the earth has gone through in that time.

What’s the music like?

Big Earth Energy takes its lead from 1980s Japanese ambient music, with a language that often ‘feels’ Eastern but never explicitly names a time or a place. Hellfritsch likes to keep things moving, but at the same time there is a good deal of ambience to enjoy when the listener pans out to listen on widescreen or headphones.

The richly coloured title track settles and builds its material from small building blocks, gently swaying as though in a breeze. Soft Fascinations has rippling textures that generate positive, restorative energy from which bigger chords can dominate. Amphibia is also deeply shaded, wide open in texture and melodic possibility.

Very soon the ear falls under the spell of the music, and its easy, slightly chunky 1980s sound profile sits very nicely in the context of its material. Avian Glide has a similar effect, with soft marimba lines complementing analogue synth washes. There is plenty of melodic interest, and a discernible pulse, but little outright percussion is used.

Hellfritsch has an appealing style, generating movement through positive melodies and consonant harmonies, with light textures that can sometimes mask the number of countermelodies and crossrhythms in play. Secret of the Megafauna is good example here, a dense forest of musical happenings with ‘plants’ that cross paths, interweave and break apart again. It leads into the sharper lines of closing track Apex, the highest plateau now reached.

Does it all work?

Yes. There is a cleansing quality to Big Earth Energy, the sort of album you would put on when looking to take the weight from your shoulders or feet – along the lines of a producer such as Matthewdavid (owner of Hellfritsch’s previous label) or current label mate Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith. The feel of the music could be described as New Age, with washes of primary musical colours and ambience, but that shouldn’t mask its emotive content or depth.

Is it recommended?

It is – Big Earth Energy is a wholly positive piece of work in the face of environmental adversity.

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