Rist: Weekend

Vic Mars: Kanransha
Symbolic Interaction

Kanransha and Weekend are not only new folk-electronic releases from two of our favourite Japan-based labels but share other complementary qualities, both sonic and structural; for example, each release follows the artist's originals with a set of remixes: by Akira Kosemura, D_Rradio, Dollboy, and Cheju in Vic Mars' case, and by .tape. (aka dot tape dot), Taunus, and Greg Davis in Rist's. Both albums also feature some of the prettiest, melodious music you're apt to hear these days.

On Kanransha (loosely translated as “viewing machine,” the release is the second in Symbolic Interaction's “Pragmatism” series), Nagoya-based Vic Mars (real name Matthew Davies) largely eschews an overt electronic style for an electroacoustic hybrid that draws upon the resources of a mini-orchestra of strings, glockenspiels, vibes, horns, flutes, guitars, pianos, clarinets, and electronic beats. What results are ten oft-folk-oriented settings of wide-ranging character, from the suitably reflective “A Walk Through The Trees” and languorous sparkle of “Clouds In Your Sunglasses” to the electronically-spattered interlude “Tristwch” and ultra-dramatic “Olympus Mons.” In “The Fountain,” a pretty introduction of glockenspiel tinkles and strings sets the stage after which a stately, march-like rhythm asserts itself. A light-hearted spirit (a child chirping the title strengthens the mood) then imbues the high-spirited marching band melodies of “I Like It Here.” Probably the album's prettiest piece is “Ferris Wheel,” dreamy lilt of delicate piano themes, softly whistling synth melodies, and tick-tock rhythms, while the most rambunctious is “Goodbye To Gulliver,” where explosive drum playing, piping flutes, and vocodered voices commingle. Electronically generated beats provide propulsive underpinning to the otherwise somber and string-laden “Three Dots Ended That” while gently chugging beats likewise add locomotion to “Choose To Escape.” If anything, the remixers push the original material's prettiness to a further extreme: Schole artist (and manager) Akira Kosemura elevates “The Fountain” with robust sweep and sparkle; D_Rradio bolsters the melancholic character of “Choose To Escape”; Dollboy takes the wonderland quality of “I Like It Here” to another level; and Cheju brings forth the serene side of “Ferris Wheel.”

Just as there's little information available about Vic Mars, there's mystery surrounding Rist too. We do know it's an electroacoustic duo comprised of German and Japanese women but names are withheld (we also told they're based primarily in Germany and worked with various artists as studio session players before joining forces). The group name has a playful origin: liking the phonetic sound and how it's used in “tou-rist” or “guitar-rist,” the two adopted the name with “two-rist” in mind. Given the material's polish and the high quality of the seven original compositions, it's remarkable that the duo's debut album was laid down one track per day during a week-long vacation. Once again we hear transporting songs whose bucolic charm and entrancing melodies offer a welcome respite from the frenetic pace and pressures associated with modern life. Layers of acoustic guitars, glockenspiels, electric and acoustic piano, flute, understated beat programming, and field recording elements (water and rain, naturally, in “Sea” and “Rain” respectively) dominate Rist's soothing soundscapes. “Morning” opens the album with bright acoustic guitar patterns, glockenspiel sprinkles, and lightly skipping beats—the similarities to Vic Mars again clearly evident. “Light” sparkles even more brightly with an ascending piano melody backed by showers of wintry sleigh bells and a robust, charging beat pattern. Gentler by comparison is “Leaf,” a tranquil setting of guitar strums and curlicues drenched in outdoor noises like the clatter of a wagon and the hum of crickets. No single track stands out as better than another; instead, the album impresses as a whole. On the remix front, the one by .tape. (“Light”) offers an appealing variation on the original, and the fusion of African juju and work song in Greg Davis's “Morning” remix is also memorable (I'm not entirely convinced the vocal chants work as well); the only questionable moment arises when Taunus's deconstruction of “Leaf” arrests the original's momentum.

January 2009