I have to admit, I didn't see a follow-up Billow Observatory album coming. Jonas Munk and Jason Kolb's initial self-titled masterpiece was just that - a truly brilliant album - they somehow managed to encapsulate everything that's good about textured, emotional ambient music without a single note wasted. There was no doubting the purpose and vision they formed and executed upon flawlessly. I didn't need anything else. That was until, I heard their follow-up.
If you listen back to the Billow Observatory's ST album, it focuses on the gentle caress of guitars, lulled into oblivion - a colorful dream inducing pallet of superlatives, commonly associated and overused when describing ambient music (I for one am guilty). I'm not sure if Jonas and Jason felt a sense of achievement with the original album, but with this perceived perfection, comes the psychological inability to replicate it.
II: Plains/Patterns, is a outstanding evolution on their original dreamy, distant sound.
As described in the album's notes, "II: Plains/Patterns departs from the first LP’s amorphous ambient haze with a more rigid, albeit subtle, underpinning of rhythm and pulse". It's as natural a progression as evolution itself - the best parts remain, and the core essence of the album has morphed into an even richer, textured experience.
From the very first track, aptly named Pulsus, it's evident Billow Observatory have evolved. A stuttering of distorted guitars in Kercheval bring the album back into more familiar Billow Observatory territory, but the echoes of synthesizers in Nulstil remind us you're no longer *just* listening to the deep textures and dream-like murmurs found on their previous album - there's more energy, more light. Glimmers of their past album still however, remain. Guitars take to the foreground on Plains - perhaps the most stunning track from the album - but this quickly shifts back into a glorious ambient phase, reminiscent of early Biosphere pieces.
The simplicity of Montclair harkens back to some of the earliest addictive textured melodies from Aphex Twin's Rhubarb, or many of Brian Eno's infamous pieces. The shifting beats and glazed static amongst Vex then tease out some additional electronic elements, before album closer Plum perfects the delicateness that I'm now realizing is the Billow Observatory magic. No-matter what elements have been added, they always manage to create this soft, hazy landscape.
I didn't think there was any way to better their original album other than copy the exact same recipe. But Plains/Patterns has taken their ambient bedding, and added more color, and richness through these additional elements. The title is likely suggestive of the two layers that now form the music here. The soft, textured and dreamy plains, and the new pulses and patterns, add a new depth to Jason and Jonas' music that will go down as one of my favorite albums from either of them yet.