Ent: Welcome Stranger

Ent's Welcome Stranger was originally issued on the Japanese Preco imprint in February 2009, but n5MD clearly thought highly enough of it to give it a broader release platform a year later. Ent isn't a group but the solo project of Nagasaki resident Atsushi Horie who also fronts the Brit-Pop-influenced band Straightener in his Japan homeland. Even so, Horie, who sings and plays guitars and keyboards on the album, creates a convincing simulation of a full band sound, an impression bolstered by the addition of Takanori Ohita whose drumming adds considerable punch to the eight songs on which he appears. Three years in the making, Welcome Stranger presents seven originals and three remixes (by Kettel, Near The Parenthesis, and Helios) in a collection of ebullient, vocal-based dreampop that'll appeal to fans of The Postal Service and The Notwist.

“No Tone” begins the album on a slightly Beatles-esque note by coupling Sgt Pepper-ish mellotron flutes and splashes of glitch acoustic guitars, and then expanding on the song's arrangement by adding martial drumming, jubilant vocal harmonies, and even a stabbing electric guitar or two. “Sleeping Ghosts” showcases Ent's breezy shoegaze dimension, while a post-rock side comes to the fore during “Will” when electric guitars and drums (supplemented by electronics and atmospheric vocals) race one another towards some imaginary finish line. The harder-edged “Do Not Adjust Your Set” brings funk and rock into the Ent fold (and even some blistering guitar work at song's end), and acoustic guitars and glockenspiel extend the wistful character of “Farewell Dear Stranger.” In his radio-friendly “Sitcom” remix, Kettel boosts the poppy character of “Silver Moment” and adds some funky swing to it too. At disc's end, Near The Parenthesis smooths out the edges of “No Tone” with synthetics and polishes the song until it sparkles, and Helios deepens the emotional impact of “Farewell Dear Stranger” by upping the original's dramatic ante. Recommended for dreampop devotees everywhere.

March 2010