Yasume: Where We're From the Birds Sing a Pretty Song
City Centre Offices

While City Centre Offices is hardly the most prolific label, each of its releases evidences a level of quality that other labels would do well to match. Where We're From the Birds Sing a Pretty Song, a gorgeous recording of sweeping symphonic electronica by newcomers Yasume, clearly maintains that superior level. Formed in late 2001 by John Twells (aka Xela) and Gabriel Morley (aka Logreybeam), Yasume's debut takes its title from a dream sequence in David Lynch's landmark television series Twin Peaks (the cover art also evokes the show by depicting the red-curtained room where Agent Cooper encounters the dancing dwarf). The musical connection, of course, applies less to Lynch and more to composer Angelo Badalamenti, responsible for numerous haunting contributions to Lynch's films. Imagine the darkly cinematic ambiance so expertly crafted by Badalamenti coupled with the densely constructed beats of Schematic's Phoenecia and you'll have some idea of what Yasume's music sounds like.

Twells and Morley spent twelve months perfecting the recording, resulting in an evocative orchestral suite whose forty-two minutes overflow with detail. While the eight tracks differ from one another in subtle ways, all combine intricate beats, extended tonal washes, and elements of dub sound production. The songs' upper layers are typically atmospheric, whereas their bottom ends are busy and intricate, and coloured with dubby echo and bass. The general template is instantiated in the brooding opener “Rengoku (Condensed).” It begins exotically with oriental ringing sounds and ambient, echoing tones, which soon are joined by a distant Asian female voice, similar to the sound of a voice echoing forth from an airport telecom. A classic Schematic beat, all treble tendrils and machine-like clicking sounds, appears, followed by a laconic dub bass that provides a supple anchor for the beat patterns and the mournful stretched tones that hover symphonically on top. Here and elsewhere, the slowly unfurling melodies are melancholy and mournful, in contrast to the funky pinprick beats that chatter incessantly below. Church-like tonal washes, shimmering chords, and glistening melodies transform tracks like “Slowly, Clearly, and Calmly” and “Triumph of Two” into epics of grandeur that are majestic yet unpretentious—no small accomplishment.

With Where We're From the Birds Sing a Pretty Song, Twells and Morley demonstrate a maturity one might expect to find in a group's later releases as opposed to its first. The duo's restrained incorporation of a sensual female voice, for example, in “2112 Crescent Heights” proves delectable. Similarly, the deep dub bass that grounds many tracks is always handled with understatement; it's present enough to provide an anchor but largely absent too, adding a satisfying spaciousness to the overall sound. It's refreshing to discover the duo faithfully adhering to a 'less is more' principle when the common impulse is towards overkill and excess. In short, Twells and Morley manage with their stunningly evocative debut to stake out a distinctive niche for themselves within the ever-expanding electronica landscape.

September 2003