Billow Observatory exist on some ethereal plane. The music that Jonas Munk and Jason Kolb create has the feel of a constant, syrup-y flow through time and space. It’s no surprise as to the duo’s penchant for grandiose musical beats given their main gigs(Kolb is a member of Detroit, Michigan’s Auburn Lull and Munk is part of Denmark’s Causa Sui, as well as Manual, solo work, and with synth extraordinaire Ulrich Schnauss.) But within the warm embrace of Billow Observatory these two expand the sound into these vast swaths of blanketed noise. Vast open space is something these two know a lot about, given the miles(and years) between their collaborations. Fortunately this transatlantic duo use the situation to their advantage, giving each plenty of room to stretch out and take their time getting to know the music.
After five years of collaborating and sending music files back and forth Kolb and Munk have finished their second album as Billow Observatory. II: Plains/Patterns is a cavernous beauty of an album, filled with ambient textures, shoegaze melancholy, and kosmische sensibilities. Floating in space never sounded so good.
Listening to this album it’s quite hard to describe what I’m hearing. It’s like describing the aurora borealis to someone who’s never experienced them. Sure, we’re all familiar with the night sky, colors, patterns, and shapes. But to accurately describe the northern lights to someone who’s never seen them so they can truly feel the emotional impact is a fool’s errand. Listening to a song like “Pulsus” or “Nulstil” is just as much a visceral experience as it is a listening experience. Both build an emotional center with rhythmic patterns and cavernous synth. I can tell you that there’s a real impact in these pieces. I think of Brian Eno, Popol Vuh, and Klaus Schulze as Billow Observatory runs through my ears. “Kercheval” is something quite different. I hear elements of Kevin Shields’ wall of guitar noise from Loveless in this track, even though the guitar in this track is swallowed up by cavernous reverb. There’s also an organic quality in this song. Movement and regeneration; a sense of new life growing from the soil.
Like I said, it’s hard to describe.
If there is a centerpiece, that would be “Plains”. This is a ten-minute epic that has the feel of circuitry buzzing and square waves dancing across small blue screens. It’s future ambient techno. An explosion of ideas and spatial motifs that pays off at every turn.
Elsewhere, “Montcalir” sounds like last breaths before that big reveal at the end of it all. Quiet, resolute, and beautiful. “Vex” bubbles and beeps like morse code from deep space before a ping ponging rhythm takes shape. “Plum” is just gorgeous. You’re overtaken by a bouncing synth and little guitar swells that feel like tiny revelations forming. From start to finish, this record is a journey.
With II: Plains/Patterns, Billow Observatory have honed their sound down from the endless, reverberating decay of their 2012 debut. Where on that album there seemed to be an endless drift into the dark(albeit a beautifully ornamented drift), Plains/Patterns has brought the expanse into something much more attainable. Something you can truly touch and feel. There’s an overwhelming sense of destination on this far out journey.