Thursday, 2 July 2020

Hiroshi Yoshimura ‎– Green (1986)

Style: Minimal, Ambient, New Age
Format: CD, Vinyl
Label: Light In The Attic, AIR Records Inc., Sona Gaia Productions

A1.   Creek
A2.   Feel
A3.   Sheep
A4.   Sleep
B1.   Green
B2.   Feet
B3.   Street
B4.   Teevee

Synthesizer, Sequencer, Computer – Hiroshi Yoshimura
Produced By  –  Kazuo Huehara

In 1967, the Canadian composer and philosopher R. Murray Schafer wrote, “The ear is always open.” He didn’t mean metaphorically: Unlike the lidded eye, the ear cannot close itself off to unwanted stimuli, leaving us particularly susceptible to intrusive sounds. Schafer’s observation turned up again in the liner notes to Hiroshi Yoshimura’s debut album, 1982’s Music for Nine Postcards, a contemplative ambient soundtrack composed for Tokyo’s Hara Museum of Contemporary Art. Echoing Schafer’s preoccupation with the rising volume of the industrialized world, Satoshi Ashikawa, whose Sound Process label first released Yoshimura’s album, wrote, “Presently, the levels of sound and music in the environment have clearly exceeded man’s capacity to assimilate them, and the audio ecosystem is beginning to fall apart.” Encouraging a “more conscious attitude” toward sound, he offered Yoshimura’s music—delicate Rhodes figures trailing pastel shadows, their spiraling as aimless as a slowly twisting mobile in a large, empty room—as a kind of palliative. 
Yoshimura, who died of cancer in 2003, was a polymath par excellence: composer, designer, historian. Most of his work existed in the overlap between sound, architecture, and everyday life, including installations and commissioned work for museums, hotels, runway shows, an aquarium, a sports stadium, the Tokyo and Kobe subway systems, and Osaka International Airport. Yoshimura’s activities made him one of the central figures of kankyō ongaku, or environmental music, a homegrown style that drew upon Erik Satie’s “furniture music” and Brian Eno’s ambient investigations, as well as centuries-old ritual traditions, to fashion a new kind of site-specific sound uniquely suited to Japan’s post-war economic boom. 
Yet listeners outside Japan remained largely ignorant of Yoshimura’s legacy until the past decade, when people like Spencer Doran, of the Portland, Oregon, duo Visible Cloaks, began advocating for his work. In 2017, Doran and Maxwell August Croy’s Empire of Signs label reissued Music for Nine Postcards, helping kick off what has become a broad revival of formerly obscure Japanese ambient and electronic music; Doran also curated Light in the Attic’s 2019 compilation Kankyō Ongaku: Japanese Ambient, Environmental & New Age Music 1980-1990. GREEN, originally released on Kazuo Uehara’s AIR Records in 1986, is not just a welcome addition to that retrospective catalog; a cult classic of growing acclaim (a YouTube upload of the album has been played more than two million times in just four years), it is crucial in fleshing out the portrait of a musician that many Westerners are only beginning to understand.

Many of Yoshimura’s early releases were soundscapes designed to heighten listeners’ perceptions of the spaces around them. Music for Nine Postcards, written with the Hara Museum’s luminous interior in mind, was inspired by scenes glimpsed from the composer’s window—a kind of landscape drawing in sound, translating the movements of clouds and tree branches into simple, gestural motifs. In his notes to 1983’s Pier & Loft, the muted soundtrack to a fashion show held in a warehouse on the Tokyo Bay, Yoshimura wrote obliquely of nostalgic views of a disintegrating city. Cosmetics maker Shiseido commissioned 1984’s barely there A・I・R (Air in Resort) as the sonic complement to a fragrance, while 1986’s lulling Soundscape 1: Surround was distributed as the almost imperceptible soundtrack to a tastefully designed line of prefab homes. 
All of these recordings share certain sonic characteristics: They tend to be soft, unobtrusive, and meditative, dissolving like sugar on the tongue. But GREEN is different: lush and layered, with a sense of purpose that makes it unique in Yoshimura’s catalog. The shift in complexity is palpable from the very first track, “CREEK,” in which mallet-like arpeggios rise from a thrumming, struck-bamboo pulse like a flock of colorful birds bursting from the rushes. It feels more elaborate than Yoshimura’s previous work; it feels more musical, with a greater emphasis on harmonic surprise. 
This sense of movement ripples across the album, but it remains quietest at its center: The stretch of songs across “SLEEP, “GREEN,” “FEET,” and “STREET” reprises the abstracted mood of Music for Nine Postcards—an impression reinforced by the fact that “FEET” and “STREET” are essentially variations on a theme. Still, even at its most sedate, GREEN boasts an inviting array of timbres and textures. In one song, the gentle bite of an overdriven Rhodes keyboard jumps to the fore; in another, a buzzing FM bass tone bristles faintly. Yoshimura favors pentatonic scales and tends to avoid major or minor thirds, and as a result, GREEN often feels like an inviting frame in which to project your own feelings. Happy, sad, blue, agitated: It welcomes all comers, promises serene uplift when needed, and offers to sand the edge off any unwanted extremes. 
Curiously, all of GREEN’s song titles share an assonant ee sound. The titles were written in English on the original sleeve, along with a cryptic acrostic descending down the musical stave: “Garden River Echo Empty Nostalgia/Ground Rain Earth Environment Nature.” In the liner notes to the original release, Yoshimura wrote, “GREEN does not specifically refer to a color. I like the word for its phonetic quality, and song titles were chosen for their similar linguistic characteristics. I hope that this music will convey the comfortable scenery of the natural cycle known as GREEN.” By treating “green” as a phoneme, Yoshimura taps into the musicality of language, which lies beyond mere signification. However anyone else might hear this music, Yoshimura clearly believed his pieces belonged to the key of ee, and developed an evocative synesthetic world to accompany his mental images of that sound. 
If Satoshi Ashikawa saw Yoshimura’s work as a necessary corrective to the modern world’s persistent and worsening din, perhaps this is an opportune time to reconnect with the Japanese composer’s work. Numerous reports have detailed the ways that the world has quieted during the pandemic. With fewer cars on the road, seismologists can detect earthquakes from further away; even in the busiest cities, birdsong is once again audible. This pause opens up a space for Yoshimura’s music to fulfill its purpose: recalibrate our relationship with the sonic world around us. 
When GREEN was licensed to the American new-age label Sona Gaia for release on CD and cassette, the sounds of running water and birdsong were added, presumably as a selling point for the American market. Light in the Attic’s reissue restores the original edition, which, Doran says, is the version that Yoshimura preferred. Light in the Attic plans to reissue the adulterated “SFX Version” on streaming platforms this summer, alongside the original; eventually, you can compare for yourself. For a long time, the Sona Gaia version was the only one I knew. But in the past couple of months, I’ve been listening to the Light in the Attic reissue, sans nature sounds, while sitting outside on my porch, where the music mingles with the actual sounds of birds, neighbors’ voices, and the breeze through the trees, plus the occasional motorcycle revving rudely, a few blocks away. These sounds turn out to be the perfect complements for Yoshimura’s music, opening up its dimensions. The ear is always open, and all the world’s a stage.
Philip Sherburne / Pitchfork

Alabaster DePlume ‎– To Cy & Lee: Instrumentals Vol. 1 (2020)

Genre: Folk, World, & Country
Format: CD, Vinyl
Label: International Anthem Recording Company

01.   Visit Croatia
02.   What's Missing
03.   Song Of The Foundling
04.   Whiskey Story Time
05.   Not Now, Jesus
06.   If You're Sure You Want To
07.   The Lucky Ones
08.   Why, Buzzardman, Why
09.   Not My Ask
10.   Turpentine
11.   I Hope

Acoustic Guitar – Leon Boydon
Bass Flute – Kirsty McGee
Bass Guitar – Lorien Edwards
Cello – Beth Porter, Hannah Miller, Jessica Macdonald, Will Calderbank
Drums – Dan Truen, Sarathy Korwar
Drums, Percussion – Phillip Howley, Rick Weedon
Electric Guitar – Ellis Davies, James Howard
Mbira – Pascal Makonese
Percussion, Bass Pedals – Paddy Steer
Piano – Daniel Inzani
Pianette, Clavinet, Piano – John Ellis
Piano, Voice – Danalogue
Synth – Chestnutt
Tenor Saxophone – Lorenzo Prati
Violin – Mikey Kenney, Tim Vincent Smith
Vocals, Tenor Saxophone, Guitar – Alabaster DePlume
Voice – Biff Roxby, Donna Thompson, Jess Connor
Voice, Flute – Ríoghnach Connolly
Composed By – Alabaster DePlume (Gus Fairbairn)
Co-producer – Mark Dressler
Producer – Alabaster DePlume, Daniel Inzani, John Ellis, Paddy Steer
Arranged By – Alabaster DePlume, Biff Roxby, Danalogue, Ellis Davies

Albaster DePlume is a spoken word artist, writer, saxophonist and bandleader. My first introduction was through his ‘Realistic Behaviour’ programme on Worldwide FM, where he introduces musicians from different backgrounds to play together and develop music live on air. This show is a development of his monthly ‘Peach’ concert series combining music and theatre originally established at London’s Total Refreshment Centre where he’s a studio resident. 
To Cy & Lee: Instrumentals Vol. 1 is a new departure as all his previous records feature his poetry and singing performances. This is a collection of nine instrumental pieces taken from the three albums that preceded his 2018 critical breakthrough Corner of a Sphere, plus two new compositions recorded last year at the Total Refreshment Centre. There are four songs from Copernicus (Manchester 2012), one from The Jester (Bristol, 2013), and four from Peach (Antwerp/Manchester/London, 2015). 
The album is being co-released by Total Refreshment Centre, micro Hebridean indie label Lost Map (Eigg) and, crucially, by International Anthem, the Chicago-based ‘boundary defying’ label that’s also home to drummer/producer Makaya McCraven, bassist Junius Paul and guitarist Jeff Parker and a supporter of the jazz non-profit Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians. 
DePlume (aka Angus Fairburn) met the Cy and Lee of the album’s title while working for the Manchester charity Ordinary Lifestyles, which supports people with learning disabilities, helping them live in their own homes. Together they made up melodies and tunes which were later used as the starting points for each composition. DePlume says: “We made these things to help each other be calm. Three labels and I have collected them together, in case they might do you good.” 
The beautiful Winter Hibiscus cover art by Raimund Wong sets the scene perfectly – the music is serene, delicate, cool and harmonious, spacious, gently orchestrated and with strong Japanese and Celtic folk themes. DePlume’s solo saxophone carries the melodies, and his tremulous and expressive vibrato takes on the identities of a number of different eastern and African instruments. The music works best for me is when at its simplest and most focused, such as on the opener Visit Croatia and the lilting Whisky Story Time. The two newly-recorded tracks What’s Missing and The Lucky Ones featuring Sarathay Korwar and Dan ‘Danalogue’ Leavers (The Comet is Coming), are two of the more adventurous pieces, but the closing section of The Lucky Ones reprises a gorgeous Japanese theme that stays with you long after the song is over. 
I can imagine many people using this music as a balm for difficult times, as DePlume intended. It has been conceived and performed for all the right reasons, and for that alone deserves to be heard so that you can make up your own mind. But there’s no doubt there will be much more to come from this original, inspirational and multi-talented artist.
Adam Sieff / London Jazz News

The Limiñanas ‎– I've Got Trouble In Mind Vol.2 - 7" And Rare Stuff 2015/2018 (2018)

Style: Garage Rock, Psychedelic Rock
Format: CD, Vinyl
Label: Because Music

01.   The Mirror
02.   Two Sisters
03.   Maria's Theme
04.   La Cavalerie
05.   Russian Roulette
06.   The Inventor
07.  The Train Creep A-Loopin - Live At Secret Location Sound Studio, Melbourne
08.   Nuit Fantôme
09.   The Gift - Anton Mix
10.   Angels And Devils
11.   Witches Valley
12.   Curse Of Santa Claus
13.   Time Will Tell
14.   Wunderbar
15.   The Woods
16.   Lord Of Flashington
17.   Silent Night

Guest, Mellotron – Renaud Picard
Guest, Oud, Bouzouki – Laurent Sales
Guest, Bass – Mickey Malaga
Guest, Bass, Backing Vocals – Peter Hook
Guest, Guitar – Alban Barate, Ivan Telefunken
Guest, Guitar – Nicolas Delseny
Guest, Guitar, Mellotron – Anton Newcombe
Guest, Lead Vocals – Anton Newcombe, Kirk Lake, Nika Leeflang, Odliz Bemer, Renaud Picard
Guest, Backing Vocals – Nika Leeflang, Renaud Picard, The Pink Tiles
Guest, Piano, Accordion, Organ, Guitar – Pascal Comeladepet – Benjamin Faconnier
Guest, Violin – Bertrand Belin
Guest, Whistling – Laurent Sales
Band, Backing Vocals – Marie Limiñana
Band, Drums, Percussion – Marie Limiñana
Band, Instruments – Lionel Limiñana
Band, Lead Vocals – Lionel Limiñana, Marie Limiñana

Making a swift return following 2018s fêted Shadow People, storied French psych rock duo The Limiñanas issue a second collection of rarities, standalone singles and unreleased material. Plotting a course through vintage US garage rock, classic French and pulsatant motorik beats, the duo’s psych/garage/yé-yé alloy has seen them become a wellspring of off-kilter but melodic psychedelia. Maintaining a prolific release rate since their inception a decade ago, it speaks for the quality of Marie and Lionel Limiñana’s offcuts that the material here is easily strong enough to be compared to many band’s official albums. 
Focusing on the highlights, a cover of The Kinks’ Two Sisters sees BJM leader and kindred spirit Anton Newcombe makes an appearance on vocals. Live favourite Russian Roulette originally by UK goth-punks Lords of the New Church, which featured members of Dead Boys and Sham 69 also highlights the couple’s wherewithal on cover versions. 
Found on the flip side of the excellent Istanbul is Sleepy which also featured Newcombe, Nuit Fantôme is a pocket symphony psych mantra that incorporates a spoken word verse, a massed chorus chant and suitably gothic atmosphere into four minutes, while La Cavalrie is excellent retro pop. Brilliantly locating the mid-point between the Mary Chain and New Order (unsurprising, as Peter Hook features on bass), The Gift (Anton Mix) streamlines the original down to a radio-perfect three and a half minutes. 
Showcasing their fondness for soundtracks, Maria’s Theme doffs its cap to is Morricone, while The Inventor is a curious but successful combination of Brian Jones’ Master Musicians of Joujouka project overlaid with a Kosmiche groove and what sounds like a Nouvelle Vague film playing next door. The sashaying garage rock of Witches Valley is reminiscent of The Seeds’ classic Pushin’ Too Hard, while The Woods and a live take on The Train Creep A Loopin’ are solid instrumental cuts. 
The Mirror is a slight misfire, with novelist Kirk Lake performing his lyrics as a spoken word piece, showcasing how difficult the form is to truly nail when compared with the likes of Gerard Langley from art rock outfit The Blue Aeroplanes. Featuring two curveball Yuletide tracks, one self-penned, The Cure of Santa and one traditional, Silent Night, aside from inessential items Wunderbar and Lord of Flashington (have they been watching Blackadder?) towards the close, I’ve Got Trouble In Mind Vol. 2 is a strong new addition to the duo’s catalogue. 3/5
Richard Lewis / Bearded Magazine