Above The Winter Oaks
July hardly seems like the natural time to be engaging with a winter-themed recording of the kind Hideki Umezawa (aka Pawn) has created in Above the Winter Oaks. But as far as the Tokyo-based producer is concerned, any time is a good time to contemplate the season as it fosters introspection and—depending on one's disposition and place of residence, perhaps—happiness. A key reason for conceiving the album with the coldest season in mind is simply because Umezawa collected a multitude of field recording materials during autumn and winter of 2008, many of them stemming from the daily walks he takes in the Inogashira Park area where he now resides. Paired with natural elements (birds, trampling through the park, etc.) are acoustic instrument sounds produced by glass-harp, handbell, glockenspiel, pianica, harmonica, and guitar. He clearly wished to share that wintry feeling with others too, as he brought five compatriots on board as remixers (My Fun, offthesky, The Green Kingdom, steinbrüchel, and Billy Gomberg).
Certainly Umezawa's rich tapestries evoke winter's wondrous and magical sides, with his five originals all slow-moving, dream-like oases of electro-acoustic splendour teeming with piano tinkles and glistening slivers. Rather than conjuring the image of a freezing blizzard, he uses the sparkle of glockenspiel tinkles to suggest snowflakes peacefully drifting to earth during “Snow Piles,” even if the setting does develop into an agitated swirl with the addition of piano and flickering tones. “Fallen” presumably refers to the leaves one hears Umezawa shuffling through accompanied by a mass of guitar shadings and electronic touches. Close your eyes while listening to Pawn's “Above the Winter Oaks” and you might see sunlight refracted into mini-rainbows by melting icicles dangling from tree branches. On the remix front, a slightly stripped-down “Snow Piles” grows even more peaceful in My Fun's hands, and “Winter Came Again” exudes an aura of even greater splendour when offthesky grants the guitar dimension more prominence. Treatments by The Green Kingdom and steinbrüchel perpetuate the general mood, while Billy Gomberg's “Wild Owls (Above the Winter Oaks)” allows darker skies and an overcast tone to drift into view above the tree-tops. Anyone whose read thus far and who's familiar with The Land Of's output will already know that Above the Winter Oaks is a quintessential label release. Like many of the recordings The Land Of's issued, Pawn's electro-acoustic ambient settings are meditative, texture-heavy, and serene (only 200 copies were prepared so act fast if you're interested).