Tokyo Morose: Specific Ocean
Square Root Records

Formed in early 2007, Tokyo Morose eschews laptop-based electronic music-making strategies for acoustic instruments and live, microphone-based recording techniques. The half-hour EP Specific Ocean finds Trevor Edmonds (acoustic guitars, cello, bells, bass, drums, percussion, vocals), Tim Warren (pump organ, drum machine, drums, electric guitar, bells, percussion), and Erin Lenau (viola, vocals, bells, pump organ) leaving a strong impression with seven inspired pastoral settings. The trio strikes an appealing balance between spontaneous interplay and through-composition, and a human heart beats audibly at the material's center when the playing carries with it traces of human imperfection. With Lenau making full use of the instrument's singing tone and mournful cry, the viola is an effective lead voice, and the others embroider the surround with rich instrumental embellishments (e.g., the bright bell tones that interlock with Lenau's bowed and plucked viola and Edmonds ' cello during the second half of “Hump Full of Glitter”). Augmented by acoustic picking and pump organ, viola leads the charge in “Women Who Can't Say No,” as breezy and insistent as a summer bicycle ride through the countryside. Different in character, “Legal Bedroom” presents a stately, march-like chamber arrangement for cello and viola that flirts with formal classical composition. The “rock” attack during the first half of “Here's the Man” is less successful (the rudimentary drumming doesn't help) but the lovely second half almost makes up for it. If the lovely vocal is Lenau's, Tokyo Rose would be wise to feature it more often in the future.

Of lesser consequence is the second disc, an odds'n'sods collection of eleven alternative mixes assembled by Sean Patrick (of the Andras Klang label). Electronic manipulations play a large role in the twenty-six-minute set which begins with a backwards vocal fragment and thereafter focuses on experimental variations of the originals. Though it has some memorable moments (the ambient cello meditation “Polygon” an example), one is best advised to treat the second disc as a curiosity shop that's clearly supplemental to the first's considerably more polished material. Also noteworthy is Cantilever's bold “Here's the Man” makeover which pushes the material through a digital shredder and gives it a rambunctious funk thrust in the process. (Both the seven originals and the set of alternative versions are available as a digital mp3 download and as a limited-edition CD that's accompanied by a linoleum-cut print.)

February 2009