Phosphene is a project of John Cavanagh, and he's released a few releases under that name - but sadly I'm not familiar with any of them, nor his previous group Electroscope. This blue 3"-CDR features two collaboration-based songs that are themed around the ocean, and comes packed in beautiful and theme-fitting blue slip.
The opening song lasts for under three minutes. It's a really soothing piece that's formed by soft and long harmonium-notes that are topped with some echoed electric guitar notes with raw distortion, as well as softly humming vocals. It's an intriquing piece that has a surprising amount of depth despite it's seeming softness, and could've easily lasted longer. As of now, its main purpose is to serve as the mood-setter for the EP's main content, meaning the sixteen-minuter "Drowning, Not Waving."
The track number two is loosely based on a Norfolkian folk song, and features such instruments as a harmonium, clarinet, soprano saxophone and a viola, along with two vocalists and a guitar. It builds up slowly, like it had all the time in the world in its free use; the harmonium creates a soft but interesting backdrop, on which all the different instruments execute and improvise brief and jazzy bits of sound, along with something of a melody provided by the acoustic guitar when it's not joining the lunacy with the rest of the instruments. While the harmonium provides the setting and the viola brings some extra texture to it, the clarinet and saxophone deliver improvised bursts of sound that serve as the waves and gusts of wind that appear out of the blue; they are soft but hostile, and go by as suddenly as they appeared. John Cavanagh's low voice delivers its tale in a fittingly storytelling and slightly melodramatic way, and he really adds the final touch to this oceany soundscape.
The EP doesn't really build up or aim for something - actually it moreso stays where it started from, but the unpredictable and improvisational bits and the amount of feeling put to the compositions make them powerful and even impressive. I just think that the artists let themselves get away too easily with the songs, as, despite the amount of emotion and feeling, they seem to fall short of their capabilities. All the artists seemingly possess a great amount of skill and they had a crystallized vision of the end result, but they could've taken the theme and the instrumentation to a lot greater heights instead of a tasty teaser-like release. I wouldn't have minded at all if there were a song or two more on the EP for me to enjoy, but for some reason the group decided that this is enough, whereas I think they quitted right when they had just begun.
"The Mercy of the Open Sea" is a tasty, interesting and atmospheric EP that manages to deliver quite a few surprises and well displays the artists' capabilities, but also shows that they would've had all the reason to aim higher. Enjoyable, but short.