Fjordne: The Setting Sun

Starke: A Letter From Yesterday

Two of our favourite labels, the Japanese imprint Kitchen. and the Malaysia-based Mü-nest, provide outlets for the latest recordings by Tokyo resident Shunichiro Fujimoto, his fourth album under the Fjordne alias and the first by starke, an electroacoustic project that pairs Fujimoto with Yushi Mori. Following upon Fjordne releases on Ryoondo Tea, Dynamophone Records, and U-Cover, The Setting Sun presents an hour-long sampling of Fjordne pastoralia at its best, while A Letter From Yesterday offers a more uptempo slant on Fujimoto's approach to music-making.

The Setting Sun takes its inspiration from the novel of the same name by Dazai Osamu whose story centers on an aristocratic family in decline and the moral lapses of its members. However, the Fjordne work is no sonic transcription of the novel's plot but is instead an attempt to replicate in musical terms the introspective and pastoral lyricism of Dazai's writing. Though the degree to which he succeeds in doing so may depend on one's familiarity with the novel, the recording holds up perfectly well when heard on its own terms minus the literary connection.

In the album's ten, heavily-treated meditations, tiny pops and crackle pepper the flickering meander of acoustic guitars, piano, and strings. An interesting tension emerges between the hyperactive character of the fragments that make up a given track's content and the peaceful, time-suspending stasis that it aims to achieve; the dense wall of sound that constitutes “Trees See All,” for example, presents itself as a perpetually-mutating mass that's anything but immobile. There are sometimes marked contrasts between the tracks: a gently flowing pulse gives “Torn Out” a modest forward thrust (despite the fact that Fjordne's tracks generally downplay overt rhythm); “Rustle of Leaves (After Sunset),” by comparison, is a largely arrhythmic mass of heavily-treated, rippling sounds. In one of the loveliest settings, “Collide” weaves limpid pools of tranquility from acoustic guitar, piano, electronics, crackling textures, and Fuyu's (of the band Fhenomina) heavenly vocals into five minutes of transporting beauty. Elsewhere, multiple layers of pianos and strings ripple through “A Woman, a Girl” and “Autumn; Grace,” while the acoustic guitar-driven “Last Sun” brings the album to a gently lilting close. At times, Fujimoto allows the material to speak more naturally, and it's at such moments that the music becomes most affecting. Presenting the wistful piano melodies in “Will You ...” without alteration enables it to stand out as one of the album's most directly emotional pieces. Mention also must be made of Kitchen.'s splendid presentation of the material. The nature photographs by aspidistrafly member April Lee that adorn the release's accordion-styled packaging capture perfectly the warmth and humanity of the musical content (a natural vibe that, in a couple of tracks, is deepened by the inclusion of outdoors field sounds like bird chirps).

Fujimoto brings his customary arsenal of sounds (acoustic guitar, acoustic and electric piano, found sounds, electronics) to On A Letter From Yesterday but the album's bright sparkle is fleshed out considerably by the drums, percussion, and keyboards of Yushi Mori. Not surprisingly, it's Mori's robust drumming that gives the material its greatest boost and helps distinguish it from the Fjordne album, something made immediately apparent when “A Touch of Moonlight” bolts from the gate with a rambunctious attack. Given Fujimoto's involvement, it's also understandable that a few tracks sound a bit like Fjordne pieces with beats added, the languid “Again” a case in point, especially when the track once again features Fuyu's lovely whisper (her breathy voice also rides the galloping, dream-like flow of “Waking Up”); in addition, the beatless closer, “Cast Away,” would sound equally at home on The Setting Sun as on On A Letter From Yesterday.

But generally speaking the differences between Fjordne and Starke are pronounced, with the latter opting for a less vertically dense production style and a greater focus on horizontal momentum; there's also an emphasis in Starke on a more conventional approach to song structure and melody but not at the expense of stylistic range. Don't think, however, that Starke's harmonious music isn't rich on sonic grounds, as there's a plenitude of acoustic, electronic, vocal, field, and found sounds in play at any given moment. The album's forty-three minutes cover a lot of ground, including breezy trip-hop (“With”) and folktronic funk (“Leave the Cat Alone”). The jazzy “Enter” becomes a showcase for Fujimoto's waves of electric piano and Mori's swinging drumming. “In the Midst” morphs from a Fjordne-styled meditation of rippling textures into a rather more exuberant, even tumultuous setting courtesy of Mori's aggressive drumming until returning at song's end to its peaceful origins. Like much of the album, “With” flows with an easy grace that's redolent of summer seasides and gentle winds blowing across the sand.

September 2009