Oscillating synths cut in and out of Billow Observatory‘s sound world, scissoring through opener “Serriform”, strobing like sunshine through a cluster of pine trees. The music on III: Chroma/Contour inhales nothing but fresh air. Surrounded by an all-encompassing light, it’s an impressive experience right from the off. When that intermittent synth finds a smooth line, it follows it until another speed bump arrives, producing a pulsating rhythm that sounds like the dash-dot-dash of morse code.
Billow Observatory are the trans-Atlantic duo of Detroit’s Jason Kolb and Denmark’s Jonas Munk. This entry – their third since forming in 2006 – is a detailed and lovingly-crafted sound world with a beautiful heart. It’s a kind and emotional ambient music. You will find within its airy tones a soft, constant, and glimmering light, meditative, looping rhythms, and a gaseous, incredibly bright ambient music. The record is an exercise in lightness and wellbeing; azure drones and equally blue skies are married to accompanying electronics, which are also in excellent health.
Notes are explored for their texture and color, chroma and contour.
This third offering is more of an exploration, vast in its generous space, and concentrating on color and tonal contour. The duo go back to the essentials, and when forming an ambient atmosphere, it’s important to keep in mind the mantra that less is always more. As such, there’s a focus on minimalism, and the instrumental sparsity in turn gives the notes an extra amount of space, turning the album into a wide panorama instead of a cluttered mess. Within the sound, there’s enough space for everyone to co-exist. Not just a thin gap or an available slot, but a kingdom of wildflowers built on hope and major keys.
Washed out guitars are soaked in deep puddles of reverb and delay. A broken Dictaphone lies somewhere in the mix, and voices are manipulated, gently tweaked to bend away from their original selves. The pieces come together to create a sparse and still album, a warm and sunny atmosphere where stillness meets light.
The rhythms feel like happy accidents, with the delay bouncing back and reversing in on itself like a satellite or a relay stream, pinging the melody back to its source at just the right moment and producing tonal splashes on tracks like “Color In The Six” and “Trumbull”. They really nail the vibe: an unlimited expanse and an ocean of blue sky. (James Catchpole)