Ambient music is no stranger to space. There have been so many albums examining the cosmic void that it would seem each visible star has its own unique soundtrack. As the universe can be interpreted in multiple ways, there are albums ranging from yawning nameless terror to wide-eyed saccharine wonder, and everything in between.
Opollo has broken the hold of Earth’s gravity before. It’s been two years since Jarek Leskiewicz launched his vessel beyond gravity’s reach, but while his two previous albums, Rover Tracks (2012) and Stone Tapes (2015), focused on our own planet’s lunar phenomena, Of a Distorted Star is destined for uncharted realms beyond our solar system. It’s a fitting shift in theme, for this is a refined and expanded Opollo, poised to navigate the corners of the starry deep with a newfound sense of assurance.
Opollo’s sound revolves around treated guitar drones, vast swaths of sonic layers that move and shift through gradual chord patterns. His earlier work as Opollo hinted at an epic scope, but shorter track times and experimentation seemed to impose limits on the music’s immersive quality. Of a Distorted Star addresses this with a flourish, as seven of the ten tracks are over five minutes in length. In addition, Leskiewicz’s guitars are more balanced with the music’s synthetic elements, resulting in a cohesive listen that retains its singular identity from start to finish.
There’s still variety here, but it’s carefully focused. The gentle twinkling sequence of “Magnitude” slowly expands into slow fuzzed-out guitar chords, but with keyboards equally prevalent in the mix. Slow-burn growth is nothing new for ambient, but Leskiewicz handles progression with confidence. “To Evaporate” is an even stronger example of this technique, with stirring chords that unfold gloriously against the uncertain light of swollen suns. “Recluse” and “The Man Who Couldn’t Breathe” are heavily cinematic, recalling Moby’s majestic track “God Moving Over the Face of the Waters” and soundtrack work such as Marc Streitenfeld’s grand theme from Ridley Scott’s film Prometheus. Leskiewicz has followed this sound before, but never with such confidence, or so effectively.
Of a Distorted Star isn’t just guitar run through filters and effects. There are synthetic elements everywhere, from static-buried voices and keyboard beds to scattered samples and sequenced bursts, but these details never make the music too artificial. “Rapid Rotators,” my favorite moment of the album, and perhaps my favorite Opollo track, is almost completely guitar-free, evoking the awe and peace of orbiting a drifting celestial body while a variety of mechanisms buzz and fiddle in the background. This track seems the epitome of Opollo’s new direction, with its influences found throughout the album. Leskiewicz is no longer satisfied with just laying down overlapping drones, but has pushed his own boundaries with carefully planned and executed experimentation. The album’s closer, “Keep Shining the Dark Light,” is similarly dominated by electronics, and at over seven and a half minutes, is the longest track on the album. Its masterful blend of guitar, keyboard, and silence hints, perhaps, at the next stage of Opollo’s evolution; I do not think its title is accidental.
As signified by its closing track, Of a Distorted Star has captured a rare and delicate balance between what haunts and what illuminates. Opollo has always been too graceful to be termed strictly dark ambient, but its sound is also, thankfully, free from the overly earnest and flighty brightness that marks so many similarly themed ambient albums. Of a Distorted Star understands the mystery of the cosmos, in all its wonder and terror, and is a deeply moving soundtrack to a transforming journey into the unknown.