In Rotation: For Wishes, Slow Dancing Society, Billow Observatory, Macross 82-99 (Review)

Sparse, intimate folk/slowcore, nocturnal cinematic ambient, airy electronic music, and anime-inspired future funk.
For Wishes

In Rotation is a regular Opus feature where I post short reviews of noteworthy music, both new and old, that I’ve been listening to lately.

Adrift by For Wishes

Adrift - For Wishes

Twelve years after releasing their debut album, I Will Burn Your Winter, For Wishes has returned with their sophomore effort, Adrift — and the ensuing years have brought little growth or development to their sound. Which isn’t a bad thing because why mess with a sound that’s already so affecting?

For Wishes’ bandleader Steve Swartz is also a member of the excellent Au Revoir Borealis, but For Wishes is smaller and more intimate in scope, with a more acoustic-based, folk-ish sound that contains some shimmering slowcore atmospherics. While much of the music is based around Swartz’s hushed voice and strummed guitar, graceful piano arrangements (“Il Ballerino,” “Runaways”), light organ and synth treatments, and sparse percussion occasionally make themselves known.

There are moments where Swartz fleshes out For Wishes’ sound a bit more, as on the haunting “Bending, Breaking,” but for the most part, this is solid singer/songwriter fare that should easily appeal to fans of Denison Witmer and even Damien Jurado’s sparser material. Or put another way, this is subdued, empathetic music that you should listen to when you need a thoughtful, comforting presence in the room.

Night Takes Day by Slow Dancing Society

Night Takes Day - Slow Dancing Society

The title of Slow Dancing Society’s latest EP is rather apropos: the languid guitar lines and sparkling synthesizers create a sense of day passing into night, of sunlight giving way to a mysterious, even dangerous darkness. “Remember, Love” easily sets the mood, as Drew Sullivan’s guitar lines shimmer and reflect off of dark electronic undercurrents. In keeping with the song’s title, there’s a nostalgic sense — but the guitar notes reveal an edge in the song’s final moments that keeps it from growing too sentimental.

Those undercurrents reappear on “Pulsing Amber,” this time evoking empty city streets coated in a slick of rain and neon light. Meanwhile, “Do You Want to Get out of Here“ s gentle synthwave wouldn’t be out of place on the Stranger Things soundtrack. Finally, the EP ends on a harrowing note with the creepy synths and roiling guitar distortion of “The Morning After,” which suggest something ominous took place the night before.

At only 16 minutes, these songs can seem more like sketches, but to Sullivan’s credit, each one feels fully-formed (and, at the risk of sounding clichéd, like imaginary film scores) — each capable of firing one’s imagination enough to wonder what keeps happening after the music ends, and the morning returns.

II: Plains/​Patterns by Billow Observatory

II Plains Patterns - Billow Observatory

Danish-based ambient/electronic producer Jonas Munk recently launched his own label, Azure Vista Records, which gives him a channel to release music by him and his friends. Case in point, Billow Observatory, a collaboration between Munk and Auburn Lull’s Jason Kolb. (Sidenote: Azure Vista will be releasing Auburn Lull’s first LP in nearly a decade this September.)

As their name implies, Billow Observatory creates lofty, airy ambient music. Opening track “Pulsus” is a fine example, with drifting synthscapes serving as a backdrop for pulsing arpeggios that suggest wide open spaces. The textured sounds on “Kercheval” conjure up an idyllic scene of billowing (npi) clouds drifting across the bluest summer sky. Finally, “Montcalir“ s solemn sparseness is reminiscent of the nostalgia-laden soundscapes on Manual’s The North Shore.

All in all, an immaculately produced album of ambient electronica that will certainly please fans of the prolific Munk’s other output.

Sailorwave by Macross 82-99

Sailorwave - Macross 82 99

Originally released back in 2013, Macross 82 – 99’s debut album has recently been re-released on CD and cassette by Hong Kong’s Neoncity Records. So now’s a great time to dive back into the enigmatic producer’s future funk. Pulling together disparate threads of jazz, hip-hop, and electronica, with a large dose of anime aesthetic (which should be obvious, given his name), Macross 82 – 99 crafts an inviting sonic world.

Like so much music often filed under “vaporwave,” Sailorwave’s ten songs can seem rather kitschy and disposable at first, but that’s part of the charm. There’s a muzak quality to much of Sailorwave, but the idea is that it’s the sort of muzak you’d hear while strolling along the SDF-1’s promenade alongside Rick Hunter, Lisa Hayes, and Lynn Minmei. There’s a fantastical element to Macross 82 – 99’s music, one that conjures up an interesting alternate sonic dimension where Veritechs are real.

But even if you don’t care about vaporwave aesthetic, or don’t know the difference between Robotech and Macross, there’s the simple fact that Sailorwave really is quite funky. Don’t be surprised to find your head a-bobbing and body a-swaying in time with “NEW DAWN“ s slap bass, “木野 まこと“ s trilling lounge piano, or “水野 亜美AMY“ s jittery guitar.