Nearly every one of oliviaway’s releases — e.g., Thunderous Heights, Origin Glow — follow the same format: three long pieces (usually 8+ minutes or so) of pure, moody ambient drift. In my book, this consistency is a feature, not a bug. While it’s difficult to differentiate one oliviaway album from another, that doesn’t really matter to me, not when the music is so reliably evocative and affecting.
The first thing to notice, however, about Crystal Castle is that each of its three songs is less than three minutes long. And when “A Sky of Roses” starts playing, the usual amorphous clouds of melancholy ambience are diminished in favor of soft arpeggios and echo-laden piano notes.
Crystal Castle is just as atmospheric and moody as any of oliviaway’s releases to date, but it also contains a sense of structure that’s not present elsewhere in the prolific composer’s discography — and that’s accompanied by a sense of wonder. As befitting a release that was “inspired by unimaginable natural landscapes,” Crystal Castle’s overall mood is lighter, freer, and dare I say, uplifting.
If you wanted to be pithy, then I suppose you could call Crystal Castle oliviaway’s “pop” album due to both its brevity and melodic nature. (For the record, oliviaway calls it an “experimental” album.) But I think that sells it a bit short if only because it’s still suffused with the same dreaminess that makes oliviaway’s music so beguiling in the first place. That it’s presented in a condensed form here only heightens the effect.
In other words, I consider this experiment very much a success, and I look forward to oliviaway finding more ways to play with and evolve their ambient aesthetic.