Rayons: The World Left Behind

A very pretty collection, The World Left Behind is Japanese composer Masako Nakai's debut full-length under the Rayons name and her follow-up to 2012's mini-album After The Noise Is Gone. That Nakai formally studied modern and classical music at college is evidenced by the refined classical-styled character of her settings, typically presented in arrangements for piano and strings on this ten-song album and four of them augmented by the delicate vocals of her friend and collaborator Predawn (Miwako Shimizu).

The recording process for The World Left Behind certainly wasn't protracted: she recorded the thirty-eight-minute set in a European-styled hall over two cold, wintry days. The music is anything but chilly, however; Nakai's piano-centered pieces are warm and inviting, and they're only rendered more alluring when flute, clarinet, violin, viola, and cello are factored in. Shimizu's soft voice enhances the songs on which she appears, her singing sounding somewhat like a cross between Bjork and The Sundays' Harriet Wheeler; a case in point is the affecting ballad “Waxing Moon,” where her clear enunciation is complemented by piano and strings. Shimizu's emotive performance in “Frozen Forest” is enhanced by a chamber orchestra-like arrangement that sees flute and piano providing a luscious base for a multi-tracked Predawn to sing over, and the moving “Atarashii Hito (A Letter From Nowhere)” offers a near-irrefutable argument for Rayons' vocal-instrumental blend.

The songs on which Shimizu appears are pleasing, but The World Left Behind is that rare collection where the instrumental settings are perhaps more satisfying, simply because with the vocals absent the beauty of Nakai's music is all the easier to appreciate. In no more than three minutes, the mini-symphony “Can't See Through the Fog” paints a vivid portrait using woodwinds, piano, and strings as its palette; for the melancholy “Immortal Island” the arrangement is reduced to cello and piano, yet the musical effect is no less powerful. And even when a piece features piano only, it's still memorable: with the flowing melodies of Nakai's keyboard sonorously ringing out, the aptly titled “Dancing Under the Filtered Sun” evokes the image of a couple dancing to a bright minuet in some pastoral setting, while “Impression” dramatically rises and falls in sweeping melodic arcs. In such cases, no words are needed to convey the enticing quality of Rayons' music.

November 2015