David Newlyn: Relatively Down
Symbolic Interaction

The Retail Sectors: Life's Ironies
October Man

Though David Newlyn's Relatively Down appears on Kentaro Togawa's Symbolic Interaction label, Newlyn himself is not of Japanese origin. Presumably, he could have issued the album on his own October Man Recordings imprint but Relatively Down's ten placid electroacoustic settings sound right at home on Togawa's consistently-strong Japanese label.

Each of the album's pieces is slightly different in character yet shares with the others a feeling of peaceful calm and natural, outdoors character (abetted by occasional field elements of voices, cars, and other environmental sounds). Acoustic instruments (piano, acoustic guitar) often occupy the front line and are typically embedded within understatedly defined electronic contexts. The songs are filled with chiming piano and melancholic electronic melodies as well as soothing electronic tones and washes. Softly whistling melodies form a backdrop for echo-drenched piano playing in “This Time of Night,” and, in a rare example of acoustics and electronics standing side-by-side, “Send Me a Postcard” juxtaposes bright piano and synthesizer patterns; a couple of songs also include simple electronic beats which aligns them closer to a conventional electronic music style (“Northern Exit,” “Antique”). In the longest piece, the eight-minute “Overview,” the turbulent first half is dominated by chilly, agitated whorls while the second finds the wind dying down and leaving a stream of becalmed haze in its wake. Ultimately, it makes perfect sense that Relatively Down appears on Symbolic Interaction given that it's as unassuming, direct, and as lovely as Haiku poetry.

The exchange program carries over to Kentaro Togawa's own ‘band' project, The Retail Sectors, which makes an appearance on October Man with Life's Ironies, an eight-track set of, put most simply, instrumental guitar music. The sonic elements are consistent from one song to the next—multi-layered lattices of electric guitar (sometimes doubled, sometimes in counterpoint), bass, and drums—but the material remains engrossing due to the songs' extreme dynamic shifts and unexpected detours.

Togawa favours a clean, undistorted guitar tone in the quieter moments but opts for beehive swarm during the detonations. The opening “In Scorn” weaves melancholy lines of guitar and bass into an elegant mass of classical counterpoint until the detonation occurs halfway through. The nine-minute “In Perplexity” likewise segues from controlled elegance to a blistering roar, and elephantine riffage ups the anthemic ante during “In the Gleam of Dawn” and “In Slight Hope” too. What, on paper, may appear formulaic doesn't sound so in practice, as Togawa resourcefully varies the template throughout. “In Insanity,” for instance, works at least three primary stages into a nine-minute running time: the piece moves from a graceful 6/8 episode to a high-velocity gallop in the middle section and then escalates again when Togawa rolls the heavier artillery for the song's climax.

Perhaps it's because Kentaro Togawa assembles his tracks piece by piece that The Retail Sectors' material sounds so meticulous and tight. It's all through-composed and indulgent soloing is absent; every moment, including those in the longest tracks, feels carefully mapped out and methodically executed. And, even though Togawa hews to a familiar guitar-bass-drums sonic palette, his composing abilities keep the material sounding fresh.

December 2007