Vermont: II

There is a very singular sort of trajectory to II, lived-in and about as vital as ambient music ever deigns to be.

There is a peace to Vermont’s II, but not a listlessness. While it’s tempting to get caught up in the background-ready qualities of this very ambient album, it’s just as fulfilling to pay attention to it, to see where it goes and how it gets there. In every track there is a lot going on, and while it never begs for attention, II thrives on little intricacies punctuated by the occasional grand gesture.

Vermont is the project of Motor City Drum Ensemble’s Danilo Plessow and Innervisions artist Marcus Worgull, and somehow, it has very little to do with the deep house scene. Rather, it finds the two experimenting with kosmische (the quiet offshoot of krautrock), putting together an entire album of tracks that could have been transitional interludes on other albums. II is, not surprisingly, the second go-’round for Plessow and Worgull, and their comfort in working together is now apparent and obvious; despite the two minds driving this project, there is a very singular sort of trajectory to it, lived-in and about as vital as ambient music ever deigns to be.

Opener and standout “Norderney”, for example, doesn’t sound complex until you start hearing all the layers. Three notes at a time in the bassline, two different plucked guitar lines in some kind of non-traditional time signature, space melodies, wind sounds, and some icy synths holding the whole thing together. It would sound busy if there weren’t so much space in it, and it’s that space that allows it to retain its calming qualities. The layers are miles apart from one another, and few of them are insistent about constantly making noise; they’ll say a piece, and then wait for a while before they speak up again. It’s a beautiful trick of a song, and could have lasted twice as long if Worgull and Plessow weren’t so insistent on never getting bogged down in a single idea — no track on the album even gets past the six-minute mark.

“Ki-Bou” nudges up next to drone in the modulations of the synths that give it its underlying structure, but it’s actually one of the more kinetic tracks in the way the melodies on top of those drones bounce and cut through the rest of the mix. “Ufer” bends its synths a bit for a chill spaghetti western vibe. “Skorbut”, the first of a trio of more rhythm-driven tracks at the end of the album, finds a fresh sort of darkness that suits kosmische’s krautrock origins. It’s music for a Stranger Things montage, really.

As the album rolls along, there are a couple tracks that veer into the vaguely annoying territory that can be a killer on an album like this. “Hallo Von Der Anderen Seite” uses synth pad patterns toward the end that sound more like physics experiments than musical elements in the way they speed up and slow down, and there’s not enough intrigue elsewhere to take the emphasis off of them. It’s as if the song is trying too hard to be interesting, which is the exact opposite problem that “Chemtrails” has, in that it repeats itself aimlessly for three minutes and somehow comes off as too long for its barely-three-minute runtime.

Vermont is quite clearly a side project, an outlet allowing a couple of friends to do something completely different with their time than the music that they’ve made their name on. These sorts of outlets allow their creators freedom, and that freedom shines through all over II. Not every experiment is necessarily a success, but listening front to back offers an awfully absorbing sort of quiet. Sometimes just listening to artists explore a new space is enough to make for a work worth hearing.

RATING 7 / 10