Considering that the ambient genre is one that tends to center around more of a contemplative existence, one would imagine that the creation of these styles of album would be done in a consistently deliberate or, otherwise slower fashion – a quality over quantity approach if you will. This thought process in mind, San Francisco electronic artist, Christopher Willits, seems to work fascinatingly against the grain this one-or-the-other philosophy, affording listeners both quality and efficiency with the arrival of new album Sunset (Ghostly International, 2019), only two years after the arrival of previous album, Horizon (Ghostly International, 2017).
The magnitude of Willits’ accomplishment on this front is worth even more attention when noting the depth of work that has gone into Sunset, which took its cue from the planning and realized concepts started in 2017. Willits isn’t just a musician. The California composer devotes a large portion of time and energy to Envelop, the non-profit venue he co-founded to showcase artists, provide a hub for learning about sound and audio, and to create an immersive listening space to generate renewed appreciation for audio playback. Combining his pursuits, Willits created Horizon’s spatial audio listening experience using the technology and audio quality generated through Envelop and has now followed that successful endeavor with Sunset.
Where Horizon was a bold idea and subsequent execution of something complex, new, and more subtle in its impressiveness (the record wasn’t about a slew of bonus tracks or laundry lists of additional celebrity musician guest features), Sunset runs with the experience Willits gained from that project and shows what he can do with a more settled understanding of what a spatial audio record will lead to in the long run. And indeed, Sunset as a concept feels less daunting and “unknown” than its predecessor. The technologically innovative core structure of the tracks is less the focal point and now both Willits and future listeners are able to direct their attention more to the emotional substance of the listening experience itself. Emotional discovery can be set aside for one’s own internal journey, rather than clinging to inevitable external curiosities about what a 3D audio experience will be like.
Understanding before ever hearing a single tone of the music on Sunset, that it was built with a specific roadmap and mental direction in mind, Willits should also be praised for another mindfulness-oriented outing. Not exactly like, but at least somewhat adjacent to, the resurgence in vinyl and the idea of concentrated listening, assembling an album of compositions meant deliberately to steer one’s end of day emotional experience displays Willits’ embrace of virtues like patience, humility, and diligence. After all, Sunset’s five tracks are designed to be played around 15 minutes prior to the sun setting and its sonic aesthetic is shaped to match the steady transition from the last of the sun’s fluid warmth to the beginning of the evening’s crisper, cool darkness. There is direction and a sense of intended mediation involved in how Sunset is positively experienced and with the practice of meditation comes the necessity for the aforementioned virtues because it isn’t an activity to be done once, nor something one can expect to master with haste. In little time however, it does become very obvious Sunset is much more a work of functional than recreational existence and that too, is a designation which goes against the grain of current musical trends.
In this way, onlookers can take note that despite its chill, “vibey,” and fluid ambient exterior, Sunset is not a record Willits chased on a whim. Nor is it a piece of work that could be designed with ease, despite the dynamically non-overwhelming nature of the music. And despite the fact that this very thoughtful character of Sunset may turn away listeners in search of more upbeat and-or instantly emotionally gratifying material, it is most commendable to see Christopher Willits, and other artists like him, make the time and take the chance to release something meant for a greater purpose and a bigger picture than fleeting notice. Sunset draws attention to an often dismissed style of music, encourages thoughtful listening, and projects Willits hopes for a world driven more by peace, calmness, and a healthy willingness to explore – both externally and within our own sometimes frazzled minds.
These broader aspirations tied to the simple and ubiquitous act of putting some music, is what makes this serene record truly worth the time for which it asks.
Consider giving it, and yourself, some dedicated time tonight just before the sun takes its leave for the start of the weekend.
Keep connected with Christopher Willits through his official website and these social media outlets: