Bill Vencil, his guitar, and some wind come together to create drone-based soundscapes and quiet songs on Atmosphere, his 2015 release as Chords of Orion. The album shows a few different faces, all based in guitar, and Vencil handles the shifts nicely. Things change up enough to keep us listening while never going too far afield. The album opens in a fairly dark space with the solids drones of the title track. The sounds here are gritty and mildly unnerving, piled on each other and distorted. At the end, Vencil smooths it all out and leaves us with a long, high, clean note that fades off and deposits us in the twittering field recordings of “The Birds Are Your Parishioners.” Things get softer here, and that changeover carries nicely through the next couple of tracks. “Silence of the Seas” is classic big-pad ambient, with Vencil easing notes off the guitar and setting them into a rise-and-fade framework. It’s beautiful and calming. “Broken Proverbs and Torn Sentences,” takes us over to Vencil’s acoustic side. The warm, folksy feel of fingerstyle gets augmented with a light, swishing sound and almost unnoticeable accompaniment in the background. Nice texturing, while leaving the focus on the guitar. On “Both Tears and the Sea Are Salty Water,” the sounds get big again. Vencil draws loud wahs from his guitar, hitting points of near-feedback (and then actual feedback) and riding the edge of dissonance. It’s got a kind of slow-motion aggression to it, a strong in-your-face quality as the thickness of the sound increases—and then just drops off to leave you still feeling its potency. There are places on Atmosphere, I am told, where an acoustic guitar was set down in the open air and the wind was allowed to have its way with the strings and the sound. Where and how Vencil has worked this in, I can’t say, which I guess is a good thing—it becomes another element in a very pleasant mix of sounds and we don’t need to let the novelty of the idea get in the way.
I like the way Vencil mixes up his approaches on Atmosphere, and how well he modulates the feel of his pieces. The calm plays off against the harshness, the waving drones play off against the dancing acoustic. The only thing I could probably have done without is the raspy, whispered recitation on “Thou Hast Made Me.” It’s a bit jarring in the midst of the music, and the timbre of the voice doesn’t help. Still, a minor callout on an album I’ve dug into over and over. More great work from Chords of Orion.
Available at Bandcamp.