Billow Observatory – II: Plains/Patterns (Azure Vista Records, 2017)


Summer begins 9 days from now on the Solstice, the longest day of the year, though on evenings like today you would believe that we were deep in its throes already: the woods are rich and dense with foliage; plants have cycled through their Spring blooms and are moving through to their Summer maturation; the skies are clear and warm. What better way to reverberate in Earth’s richest month than to lose one’s self in the latest Billow Observatory LP, the sophomore collaboration between Manual’s Jonas Munk and Auburn Lull’s Jason Kolb.

The simplest way to describe this record would be: understated. Everything proceeds at its own humble, quiescent pace, life moving luxuriously and without haste at the height of the Sun’s influence. “Kercheval” imbibes this more than any other piece, losing itself in drifting vocal croonings and endless washes of crystalline guitar smears, bubbling with an aqueous perspective like a snorkeler hovering on the surface, split between the energy of two disparate worlds. It’s lush, cosy even as the water envelopes our flesh, the regular waves a metronomic reminder of time in this blissful limbo.

Electronic regularity provides the backbone for a number of early pieces actually; opening “Pulsus” chugs and, well, pulsates with a gentle insistence, its plodding yet consistent rhythm supplemented by spiralling ethereal aspects, delicate spectral currents of warm air given something to turn around: the procession of the Sun across countless day driving the winds perhaps, or maybe the endless shaping and reshaping of clouds as they swell and dissipate in slow motion across the eternal blue backdrop of the heavens. The Ambient Techno minimalism of “Nulstil” finds itself in similarly relaxing grooves, the day closing but the evening opening ahead of us in relaxed and welcoming wooziness, a dry heat shimmering from the pavements in the low Sun.

The second half is somewhat more Ambient and less dictated by rhythm; central “Plains” spends its glorious 10 minute span in languid and unbroken wandering, its palette simple and stripped back with vast swathes of landscape wrought in a few strokes of reverberant guitar drone stretching out beyond sight. Gentle bursts of percussion give form to the expanse, providing shape and nuance to the otherwise emptiness, something to nothing in all its relaxing rolls and folds. Followup “Montclair” is even more exquisite, losing us in quiet and contemplative passages eked out of the guitar drone; emotionally ambiguous it finds itself split in time, both content to be in the space and yet crooning, longing to return to it, be saturated by it again.

That’s where the closing pair come in; “Vex” feels vibrant and heady again, progressing on a bed of wet synths and fluttering guitar loops like moths at a flame; it’s the densest piece here by miles and it makes a difference. We’re truly lost in reverie and self-satisfaction here, right before the sweetness of closing “Plum”. This substantive little piece is every bit as golden as its precursors and yet it has something more to give, a feeling of physicality almost as we hold that captive little Sun in our palm, a fleshy, fruity symbol of the Summer months. Undulating synth passages and lush vocal submersions move with unbearable lightness: a caress of tongue against flesh, of lips against skin.

Summer is here…for a little while at least.