Thunderous Heights by oliviaway (Review)

Arguably the finest release yet from the prolific and enigmatic ambient composer.
Thunderous Heights - oliviaway

Since I reviewed oliviaway’s Origin Glow last August, the enigmatic and highly prolific ambient composer has added forty titles to their Bandcamp page. Yes, you read that right. Forty. As in four zero.

Given their highly atmospheric nature, it’s inevitable that all of those releases might start blurring together in a melancholy-tinged mélange. That’s doubly so given their often-romantic titles (e.g., We Can Fade Away, Fall Beneath You, Is a Light Ever Lost, Somewhere Only We Know) and evocative, pastoral cover art. But in oliviaway’s case, this is a feature, not a bug; you know exactly what you’re getting every time they update their Bandcamp page. (Which happens quite frequently, as you might imagine.)

But then along comes a release like Thunderous Heights. On the surface, it’s more of the same, i.e., three long pieces of moody ambient drift. Which is not to diminish previous oliviaway releases or suggest that they’re lacking in some way. But with Thunderous Heights, oliviaway’s aesthetic comes together in a manner that feels particularly special and emotive.

For thirty minutes, beginning with the 13-minute title track, Thunderous Heights surrounds the listener in drifting grey clouds of slowly unfurling synth pads. More brightly shaded sounds occasionally emerge from within the gloom like thin rays of sunlight poking through a thunderhead. But they all slowly fade away, their sad, graceful subsumption adding to the release’s emotional heft.

There’s very little melody or structure at work in these three songs. Rather, Thunderous Heights is pure, undiluted sonic impressionism, the sort of introspective soundscape you specifically reach for when you just want to sit and watch rain streak down the window, snow flurries dance on the cold winter breeze, or the sky’s colors darken after sunset. Indeed, the songs’ formlessness is precisely what allows them to envelope the listener so completely and makes them so poignant.

If you would’ve asked me earlier which oliviaway album to get if you were to buy just one, I would’ve told you to take your pick because they’re all of a piece — in a good way. But now, I’d tell you, without reservation, to get Thunderous Heights. It represents the very best of what oliviaway’s minimal, stripped down approach to ambient music has to offer, in its most complete and realized form. Put simply, Thunderous Heights is a true ambient gem.

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