The press spiel for “Opening”, San Fransisco musician Christopher Willits’ first solo album in four years (since “Tiger Flower Circle Sun”, also on the Ghostly International label), is quite substantial. It includes a Vimeo film documenting the entire release, and on the Ghostly newsletter there are details of the audiovisual components. Notes seem warranted, as “Opening” implies new technology, new information, and this personally refreshing excursion for Willits picks up where the landmark “Surf Boundaries” album left off in terms of pop ambient structure.
“For me, ‘Opening’ is about transformation” he says. It’s clear that Willits has transformed his style, like a shy person with multiple identities. A noticeable difference is the more subtle use of vocal presence, Willits preferring to permeate the likes of “Wide” with a harmonised choral layer that adds gumption to the softhearted guitars. The production of “Clear” feels like fresh linen against one’s skin: soft, cosy and clean. This pushes the melodies along nicely, though sometimes this reviewer is looking for something more dirty, more grubby. But one of the strengths of this record is its transparency, its utilitarian beauty that shuns suspicion. “Release” (yes, the titles are narratively poised) effuses the type of porcelain sparkle that pervaded “Ocean Fire”, Willits’ collaboration with Ryuichi Sakamoto in 2007.
Earlier in the collection, the acoustic guitar of “Connect” darts in grand, evasive arpeggios before launching into an eddying, sharp-percussion spree, all the while toning itself on angelic synthesiser pads (likely from Willits’ own software, much of which he designs himself). “Opening” as a whole could be perceived as too bare by some, too naked and too pretty. It occasionally veers dangerously close to comatose new age with only the drums to perk it up. But taken as a full piece, this is a worthwhile project, adding another variation to the downtempo electronica arsenal where Boards Of Canada are just a bit too weird, or Eno a bit too revelling. It is a defiant statement of open-ended commitment to real ambience.
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Photo by Richard Willits