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Susumu Yokota - Kaleidoscope


Lo Recordings

A man of considerable talent and energy, it’s no surprise that Susumu Yokota has the confidence to title his latest album Kaleidoscope. For nearly two decades he’s moved effortlessly between acid, ambient and house composing music with an unbridled élan. Since his collaboration with Rothko in 2002, his home for the majority of his ambient material has been Lo and his own label Skintone.

Yokota’s album covers have always been an effective and particularly explicit representation of his music, akin to the vivid, fragile glory of Vaughn Oliver during 4AD’s glory years and Kaleidoscope in this respect is no different - being a hypnotic whirlpool of sonic collages that drift in and out of your consciousness.  Rhythm is very much in the background for most of the album - instead there’s a distinction between sharp, crystalline metallic percussion and various strands of nebulous sonic waves in samples of voices and other processed sounds. These auditory poles are the mainstays of Yokota’s ideas and he does a tremendous job of mapping out the sounds as they merge, coalesce and then divide again.  It’s an album that lacks a coherent theme in mood or emotion, yet the sheer audial richness keeps you enthralled.  

Unlike the preoccupation with mournful cinematic drones that seems to be keeping most ambient musicians on this side of the world happy, Yokota’s ideas and emotional palette is much more traditional. The strength of his music is in the texture and arrangement. “After Falling Twice” shimmers with a beautiful piano, the odd bass hum and a vocal reminiscent of Florian Fricke’s work on Cobra Verde. Vibes tinkle in the background on “Painted Room Key”, providing a soporific accompaniment to the various shades of disorientating sound that circle around it. In “Wave drops” japanese percussion emerges after a series of cascading drones and choral voices, almost as if unrelated to the sounds at the start.

These musical non-sequiturs, which are usually no longer than 3 or 4 minutes in length, have a ubiquity to them that makes listening to them again all the more enjoyable. The sheer range of sounds and ideas means that subsequent plays means that new sounds and elements are often revealed. “When I shut my eyes” is probably the most song-like of the tracks, featuring a faintly kosmische synth that feels suitably sun-drenched. Likewise “Sprouting Symphony” is classic Yokota. There’s also time for some dark weirdness as well, although the 6 minute long “Lily Scent Jealousy” outstays its welcome and is the weakest song on the album.

Kaleidoscope though lives up to its name - a shifting, disorientating and colourful piece that will provide a momentary, intriguing glimpse into another world.

Toby Frith

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