Sawako: Bitter Sweet

Sawako may be a New Yorker of many years standing (a Tokyo resident too) but her music exemplifies none of the city's frenetic intensity. The pastoral soundscapes collected on Bitter Sweet, her follow-up to last year's Madoromi (Anticipate) and 12k sequel to Hum (2005), act like a therapeutic balm to the harried soul. Words like tranquil, fragile, delicate, resonant, and tactile are commonly used to describe Sawako's work and they all apply. As fresh as early morning dew, Bitter Sweet's softly glistening settings are drones of the gentler persuasion, or perhaps it would be more accurate to call them dreamscapes perfectly capable of lulling listeners into states of reverie from which they'd rather not return. Sawako humanizes her electronically-generated drones with well-placed touches—the acoustic bass lines that briefly appear amidst the tranquil gleam of “Wind Shower Particle,” the groan of Jacob Kirkegaard's cello that drifts over the willowy tones of “Deep Under,” and the pairing of Radiosonde's gentle guitar shadings with field sounds and church-like tones in “April~ From Sea Shell” (Jess Ivry's cello and Ryan Francesconi's acoustic guitar likewise deepen the pastoral character of “Utouto”). In fact, so many bird chirps and rustling noises emerge alongside the glistening tones in “Looped Labyrinth, Decayed Voice” one might think it was recorded at the center of a wildlife sanctuary. In an unexpected but not unwelcome departure from the album's style, “A Last Next” finds Sawako ending the album with a vocal lullaby that's as lovely as the material preceding it. Par for the 12k course, Bitter Sweet comes in a beautifully design package adorned with photographs by Maki Kaoru whose images distill the transcendent spirit of Sawako's music into visual form.

July 2008