From its opening Satie-like chords to its soothing closing melodies, In Light by Japanese outfit Small Color is as far removed from 12k's usual fare as could be imagined. It's also one of the most immediately engaging pop recordings one would be lucky enough to hear this year. The sophomore collection by Small Color members Rie Yoshihara (accordion, voice, toy piano, melodica, synth, glockenspiel) and Yusuke Onishi (guitar, banjo, bass, programming) arrives four years after the release of their debut album Outflow.
The album opens promisingly with “In Light,” a lovely serenade featuring guitars and toy piano, and follows it quickly with “Daisy,” an entrancing lullaby that's as brightly coloured as its title and which transmutes Yoshihara's gentle voice and gleaming accordion melodies into four sparkling minutes. Yoshihara and Onishi have an arresting way with melody and arrangement, as shown perhaps most powerfully by “Arrows of Time.” The sweetly languorous setting places a synthesizer, glockenspiel, and toy piano melodies at the forefront while a banjo pattern marks time—sonically, lovely but even more ear-catching are the bar-long breaks that unexpectedly appear like hiccups. The range of emotions is broad despite the album's relatively brief thirty-eight-minute running time. While many songs exude a joyful glow, others (such as “Nowhere Near”) are wistful and sad, even mournful. In the stark ballad “Heaven Knows,” Yoshihara's soft voice cascades like a waterfall, with her voice heard in its most naked form against a simple guitar accompaniment.
Those familiar with 12k's history might recall that founder Taylor Deupree founded a sub-label called Happy a few years ago but, as it's now defunct, In Light finds itself appearing on parent label 12k. Not surprisingly, Small Color's delicate sound aligns it more closely to labels like Schole and Kitchen., both of which specialize in a pastoral electronica (even if Small Color is primarily an acoustic outfit), than to 12k (with its field recordings, melodica, and chiming guitar figures, “Hideaway” is especially reminiscent of Schole). It's a lovely and oft-beautiful collection of affecting ‘J-pop,' regardless of the label credited with presenting it.