Billow Observatory : Stareside

Billow Observatory, the long-running collaboration between musician/producer Jonas Munk and the great Auburn Lull’s Jason Kolb, has been quietly reinventing what ambient music can be for a decade now. Guitars awash in sonic maipulation that sound more like electo haze in the distance, coupled with synths and effects, Billow Observatory make sounds that feel revelatory. Music that captures your imagination and carries you through what feels like a slow motion evolution of thought, self, and consciousness.

Stareside, Billow Observatory’s fourth full-length in ten years, hones in on the duo’s sonic superpowers and gives us a subtle and ethereal slice of music bliss. Over nine tracks we are taken on a journey, one that feels familiar yet with new roads taken and alien landscapes along the way. A warm, comforting dream you revisit.

The sound of Billow Observatory has touches of psychedelia, shoegaze, as well as ambient and new age. Slow drifts of manipulated guitar and synth; heavily effected melodies that become something completely different and otherworldly. Kolb and Munk are no strangers to this kind of composition, with Kolb’s main gig Auburn Lull essentially redefining dream pop, post-rock, and ethereal rock through shimmering and jangly guitars, ghostly vocals, and an almost cosmic sense of purpose. While Jonas Munk has been making guitar/synth records on his own(as well as in Manual) for nearly as long. His sound experiments on solo records feel like an extension of his work here, but with slight variations in delivery. Swaths of electrical sound expand like paint on canvas, revealing a kind of emanating light in cavernous scope.

These songs on Stareside reveal themselves slowly and in their own time. “Inner Citadel” is a kind of cosmic bulb wavering between light and dark, while “Sink The Outlook” has a kind of electro pulse underneath crackling noise and a wave of guitar and synth. Though there’s no discernable difference between the keys and strings, as they melt into each other spreading across the soundscape in ethereal indifference.

Singles “Wash Away The Dust” and “Red Morning” have been whispering in our ears for close to two years now, giving us hints of what we were in store for. They signaled yet another slight shift in mood from Billow Observatory. Each release has been a slight paradigm shift; going from the darker corners of the debut to the brighter shoegaze moments of their sophomore release, to the steely, stuttering sound world of album number three. Here, Kolb and Munk seem content in the light. There’s a sense of sunrise and a new dawn with this album.

Even the nearly 9-minute title track offers hopeful ambiance and shifting circuital optimism. A bass line wraps itself around you as clouds of unambiguous melody settle in the head and heart. “In A Stream” has touches of Vangelis; a kind of sentient morse code revealing secrets beyond us. A proper send off for such a heady work.

Stareside continues to show Billow Observatory evolving their sound. A sound that in lesser hands would seem to remain in a kind of gauzy, anesthetic cloud. Interesting, yet sitting stagnant in its own ambiguity. But with Jonas Munk and Jason Kolb, that’s never going to be an issue. They continue to move their project forward into the great unknown. Put your ears to the tracks and you’ll hear it, you’ll see it, and you’ll feel it.

Stareside’ is out now. Buy it here.

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