Christopher Willits: Surf Boundaries

That Willits' Surf Boundaries appears as part of Ghostly's SMM series, a showcase for ambient and downtempo music, says a lot about its overall style. It's mellower than The Right Kind of Nothing, the California-based guitarist's recent North Valley Subconscious Orchestra collaboration with Brad Laner, for one thing, but also more varied than the fully instrumental Pollen, issued by Fällt in 2004 (though Willits' staccato guitar flicker, so much a Pollen signature, dominates “Orange Lit Spaces”). Even so, Willits disrupts lush splendor with occasional episodes of noise; guitars wail from deep within a blurry vortex in “Love Wind,” for example, proving that Surf Boundaries isn't always so polite.

Unfurling like a pastel cloud, the gorgeous “Colors Shifting” sets the tone for the album. In this first of three variations, soft guitar flickers pan from left to right while the feathery vocals Willits and Ultra Records' Latrice Barnett exhale gently over a softly ringing cymbal pulse. The tempo gradually slows to a halt before the tune re-emerges in a slow-moving blurry haze. “Medium Blue” then abruptly explodes the mood with a hyper drum solo before morphing into a clattering mass of string tones, guitar haze, breathy vocals, and driving bass lines. The later “Yellow Springs” exudes a similarly rambunctious and psychedelic spirit that suggests strong affinities between Willits and Caribou. Shorter pieces, like the peacefully billowing “Saturn” and “Like Water,” a sweet interlude of bright guitar flutter, provide stylistic variety while the quietly euphoric ballad “Green and Gold” is particularly heavenly. At disc's end, trombones guide the ruminative “The Greatest Rain” to an almost orchestral close before the album exits in a glorious a cappella reprise of the “Colours Shifting” vocal. At 38 minutes, the album's short compared to most releases yet doesn't feel slight; if anything, Willits compresses a broad range of music-making—shoegaze, psychedelia, ambient, post-rock—into a bold yet succinct statement.

November 2006