It’s always a wondrous thing to step into a Billow Observatory record. The electronic duo of Jonas Munk(Causa Sui) and Jason Kolb(Auburn Lull) don’t make your typical ambient electronic. Theirs is more this crystalline sound that feels like stepping into uncharted territory, or stumbling into the fortress of solitude. They build immaculate walls of drone, noise, and electrical melody that seems to emulate from a crack in time and space. Billow Observatory make overwhelming movements of carefully-crafted music discovery with every album.
Billow Observatory started over a decade ago when Odense, Denmark-based musician and producer Jonas Munk reached out to Michigan-native and member of the post-rock/dream-pop outfit Auburn Lull about collaborating on a music project together. So began a decade of file-sharing, track manipulating, and even a recording session or two together in Detroit. The results of years of these micro bursts of creativity resulted in Billow Observatory(2012), and then II: Plains/Patterns(2017).
With their first outing the duo went minimal in sound, building micro melody bursts hidden in cavernous spaces of drone and intention. With their sophomore release Munk and Kolb added more light into the proceedings, showing an almost nod of the hat to shoegaze and dream pop in the glacial highs and brisk, mountainous melodies. Now with their newest record, the subtle and warm III: Chroma/Contour, Billow Observatory give us a mixture of both their cavernous and sparse beginnings and the warmer aspects of their musical personality. The results are an absolute engaging and timeless record that could’ve fallen from the sky in 1972 or 2072. Billow Observatory have done it again.
When I first listened to album opener “Serriform” I was in the car. My first visceral reaction was that I thought I was being chased by a helicopter. There was a moment of sheer panic that I felt from my gut up into my throat where I thought either rogue government agents or international assassins were hovering over our Ford Flex and were there to take me out due to stumbling across something I shouldn’t have on the internet. Fortunately for me the rumbling I heard was coming from the speakers and not from above. “Serriform” opens like a supersonic freight train tumbling from another dimension but soon slows and hovers like alien technology in your stereo receiver. This is the beauty of the Munk/Kolb collaboration. What you hear doesn’t sound like typical guitar/synth/effects-driven sound. Billow Observatory sounds like discovery. A break in reality to something newly discovered. You go from rumbling sub-atomic bass to something quite beautiful in an almost 10-minute time frame. “Serriform” literally means resembling the notched edge of a saw; serrated, and that makes perfect sense for this song.
“Color in the Six” opens on a single, reverberating guitar line that is accompanied by another, both cascading into what sounds like an endless well of echo. There’s an almost new age feel to the track, and despite it’s sparseness there’s also a great warmth in the song that is undeniable. “Iris” was the first track released from the record and for good reason, it’s an unwavering thing of beauty. Part Sigur Ros, part Besnard Lakes, and touches of both Kolb’s own Auburn Lull and Munk’s Komische proclivities. It’s a stunning piece of work. Another absolute stunner is the bouncing “Trumbull”. A song built on echoing notes, shimmering strums of guitar, and an undefined energy that seems to pulsate from the core of this excellent track.
Elsewhere, “Light By A Thread” rumbles and rolls along on an endless wave of echo and trepidation. “Soft Logic” is cinematic in scope, like Eno, Vangelis, and Philip Glass rolled into one song. “Memory Resonance” encapsulates what came before it beautifully as melodies escape the bright void of echo, light, and space to which Billow Observatory use as their palette of sound.
III: Chroma/Contour both picks up where Billow Observatory left off in 2017, as well as writing a new musical chapter in their sound shaping and melody-driven ambient. Jonas Munk and Jason Kolb have made another truly remarkable musical statement.
III: Chroma/Contour will be released on February 8, 2019 via Azure Vista Records. Preorder it here.
8.2 out of 10