Billow Observatory: II: Plains/Patterns (Azure Vista Records, 2017)
Billow Observatory’s second LP, II: Plains/Patterns, is being released on March 31, 2017. It’s predecessor, the self-titled release of 2012, was hailed as a timeless piece of cinematic ambience and Jonas Munk and Jason Kolb’s (Auburn Lull) second outing is equally brilliant. There is a gorgeous minimalism to this album that speaks volumes about Munk and Kolb’s sonic and arrangement choices. The album is both cinematic and contemplative, creating open soundscapes that breathe, pulse, and have slight movement in their variations.
II: Plains/Patterns opens with “Pulsus”, an understated piece with subtle rhythms that undulate throughout as a repetitive, almost meditative vibe. Synths create small swells throughout, with spacey and warm synths rising and falling, creating delicate movement. It’s definitely a piece that is a mood-setter for the album, creating an open soundscape of possibilities. “Kercheval” rings into the speakers with a circular, dreamy guitar tone. It is joined by warm synths and, eventually, percolating sounds begin to dot the soundscape as it becomes sparse. A light, dreamy synth plays as a floor to the percolating sounds. The track is patient and sparse, with an incredible beauty. “Nulstil” pulsates with a steady rhythm and bright synth drones. The variations in the tones and textures are quite subtle throughout, but, when one really pays attention, they are quite lovely. There is even a slight melody here that has changes as it progresses.
“Plains”, like the open skies and vastness of the lands that the title represents, evokes limitlessness. Wind like synth sounds sweep through the speakers as sparse keys swell. It’s a composition that transports the listener to fields of golden hay or flowers during spring. As the track moves forward, there is a build, with layers becoming a part of the soundscape. Different synths create beat-like patterns and then at about 6:15, a gorgeous dense tone punctures the layers. “Plains” eventually fades into the distance and “Montclair” rises in its place. It’s a quiet composition with subtle, reverberating synth swells rising and falling, almost disappearing into silence but never quite doing so.
“Vex” has understated techno synth patterns with quiet, roaming drones that make their presence known in the distance. Louder, more understated thunderous sonics punctuate the soundscape, moving to the fore of the composition. There is also this wonderfully gritty, fuzzy tone that sits on the edge of the composition, giving the piece a different texture in places. “Plum” is the finale to this beautiful lush musical journey. It begins with a quiet drown that’s slow but increases in volume. A tone bounces back and forth between speakers as waves of ambient ether floats about like ghostly tones on a bed of sonic air. Munk and Kolb patiently strip away layers as the track fades into the vast distance.
II: Plains/Patterns is a masterpiece of minimalism and composition. Munk and Kolb have produced what is decidedly a flawless ambient album. The work is sparse, enveloping, warm, cinematic, and contemplative in all the right ways. For each listener, it will evoke different places, events, and feelings but it will indeed evoke something deep and abiding. Billow Observatory II: Plains/Patterns is something special and every lover of ambient music should own a copy.
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