Chords of Orion (Bill Vencil) packs a dozen ambient guitar pieces into an hour on his evening-hued album, Nightfall. Along with contributions from pianist Abigail Beavin, Vencil turns these sketches into an immersive listening experience full of melted melodies. While the accompanied pieces bring a refreshing touch of lightness, I find I’m most involved with Vencil’s straight-up drone/ambient pieces. The thick layers of “The Last Green Field,” laced with a coarse edge of distortion, wrap themselves around you. Listen to Vencil coax each new thread up out of the guitar and let it decay, softening as it goes. “Air and Angels” issues forth in slow yawns and long sustain, an especially effective mix at lower volume. “Fading Into the West” has a romantic feel to it, its drawn-out melody given a distinct voice that fits its title. Grittier in tone is “Things Which Are Not,” where sharp lines cut across distorted field recordings. Skirting the grey edge of darkness, it’s eerie and mildly unsettling. All of this discussion of the solo pieces is not meant to take away from the duets; other than acting as well-placed breaks of solidity between Vencil’s ghostly ambience, they showcase another side of his compositional work. Beavin’s piano on “My Faith Burns Low, My Hope Burns Low” finds a spot between homey and homily, rich with feeling against Vencil’s supporting drones. “Immanuel’s Ground” has a soft New Age feel to the piano, bright and hopeful. Vencil offers softer string-like tones beneath. The chemistry is clear and effective.
I think Nightfall represents an increase in confidence from Vencil, an excellent step forward in style. It’s a smooth release that shows subtly different faces without trying too hard. A nice low-volume listen that pays off well when you go deeper.
Available from Bandcamp.