Sunday, June 24, 2012

JAM DESHO: Gutevolk - Taiyo no Chandelier

By Steve Jones.

(Welcome! JAM Desho is the new, less copyright-infringing, and less appropriating name of my Samsonite Samurai feature. "JAM Desho" is a Yellow Magic Orchestra quote that loosely translates to "It will JAM," and, since my intention remains to highlight Japanese music that JAMs, I think it fits.)

Gutevolk is the solo project of Hirano Nishiyama. She has made a career out of weaving electronic and acoustic voices into music that is shining and fantastical, with an air of innocent, natural beauty. Her 2003 record Suomi, released on one of my favorite record labels, Noble, is wonderful and my recommended place to begin if you are new to Gutevolk. Just listen to the track "Kikyu ni Notte" and, once that hooks you, the entire album. I, however, want to talk about her most recent album Taiyo no Chandelier (Sun Chandelier), which slipped most unfortunately under my radar in 2010.

Taiyo no Chandelier is assuredly from the Gutevolk I fell in love with. She has her same pleasantly wispy  voice, the same electroacoustic sound aesthetic, and the same whimsical songs. But the texture of this album has noticeably evolved from the Gutevolk of prior albums. There's a richness and deepness to the songs, evidence of Nishiyama pushing her sound further in the direction of 2007's Tiny People Singing Over the Rainbow. Her songs have always layered intricate patterns of notes and melodies over one another, but it is especially pronounced and hypnotic throughout Taiyo no Chandelier.

The album's opener "Picnic" is a great example of how Gutevolk's brand of polyphony works to transport the listener to specific places. It's a feelgood track without being intellectually bereft. Light-hearted without being light-headed. I could spend a paragraph listing each sound that pops up in the track, which I will not do, but my favorites are the flutes and Nishiyama's "do-re-mi-fa-mi-re-do" in the background. The subtle change to the song's chord progression is another delicate and inviting touch that tickle my ears just right.

"Cornflakes Joyride" starts similarly sweet, but its introduction of clipped and crunchy drums and bass fleshes out the sound, and I can't help but be reminded of Stereolab when the organ punctuates the song's outro. Gutevolk also gets a little sultry with tracks like "Pupa" and "Hinagiku," and even delves into a bit of tropicalia in "Wonder Eden." Her arrangements throughout the album have the intricacy and intimacy of Shugo Tokumaru's best songs, but I'm slightly partial to Nishiyama's songwriting and sound sculpting over Tokumaru's.

Gutevolk makes quintessential holiday music, capturing the feelings of mirth and wonder that can happen when we step outside our daily routine. Taiyo no Chandelier has music that works just as well within the blankness of snowfield as in clamor of a summer forest. An examination will reveal how carefully constructed it is, but this complexity is cleverly masked by a sense of childlike spontaneity that bewitches and entices.

(Steve Jones is the ugliest piece of bread you've ever eaten. You can also eat his Twitter @vestenet.)

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