Guitarist, improviser, multimedia artist, and software aficionado Christopher Willits has returned with a follow up to his 2006 album Surf Boundaries. That album took his experimental guitar processing techniques, which up to that point were usually pretty if somewhat small and academic sounding, and developed expansive structures and environments which included other instrumentation and sounds sources. These rode the boundaries of widescreen pop, microscopically glitchy electro, and grand ambient washes, colored with 5-part harmony vocals, slappy trap kits, and breathy drones. Together, they beamed a vibe of jubilant meditation, and that vibe continues on Tiger Flower Circle Sun, an album inspired by Willits’ belief in universal connectivity and oneness.
Although the sounds Willits uses still pop with vibrancy and immediacy, this time out the pop quotient is reduced in favor of more deliberate meditation and exploration – the album sounds less composed and more flowing. Willits talks about how the music tells him what to do more than the other way around, especially with respect to his live performance, and with this new batch of tracks he really seems to get out of the way, reducing the ego input and allowing each piece to bloom at its own pace. Even “Sun Body”, the poppiest piece here with its crisp trap-kit and insistent patterns, never panders to over-the-top catchiness, instead just putting its head down and plowing forward with confidence.
Willits’ guitar-folding technique (jumbling of melodic content according to mathematically precise paramaters supplied by custom-built software patches and plugins), which sounds alternately like a singing copy machine, a fidgety robot, and a runaway snowball, yields not only blissfully ricocheting melodies, but also provides rhythmic peculiarities that end up making this music feel alive – steady knocking and staccato pinging that suggest natural processes, calling to mind cyclical biological systems (“Green Faces”), a woodpecker amid its larger ecosystem (“You Are Always Surrounded by Stars”), or stages in development (“Plant Body”). Willits ventures into Reichian minimalism on “New Life” and “The Hands Connect to the Heart”, two pieces which act as a bit of a hinge for the album – separating the more vigorous first half from the more tranquil second half with a spot of seriousness.
For Willits, there is meaning in the process itself, which is a representation of reality unstuck in time, like lighting up nodes on a constantly vibrating net that exists in opposition to the granularity and separateness of time’s arrow. But for all the attention paid to process, many of the more memorable moments on the album include the human element running counter to the software-based structures. “Uplifting the Streets” finds a buzzy guitar phrasing a languid melody in continuous tone against a quick-glitching static. “Plant Body” has more low-end fuzz guitar riffing against the pop and echo of the main theme. “Light Into Branches” is a slowly translucent folk tune where Willits sings about life’s transformations of energy and vice versa. “Intend/Evolve” features gauzy vocal harmonies floating above a workmanlike rhythmic clatter. These glimpses of the recognizably human remind us of ourselves, and provide a perspective from which to see everything else. That the music isn’t centered around these moments is a reminder that humans are but one of many forces animating the system.
There is a breezy effervescence to all of Willits’ work which gleams on the surface and beckons the listener in – either for microscopic inspection or gale force immersion. People expecting more traditional songs will be disappointed, but those approaching with an open mind will walk away with their mind expanded. Even better than an expanded mind, these songs instill a feeling majestic peace. Not just an esthetic success, Willits also can score this as an artistic achievement. With only a few lyrics and song titles informing the music, Willits manages to get you to see the world the way he does – as an interconnected field of energy, vibrating with life.