13 February 2009

Susumu Yokota – Mother

Lo Recordings (2009)

Another writer's cut of a FACT review!

In the last month I have lazed on a beach under equatorial heat and braved the disappointingly feeble, yet perilously icy, British winter. With me in both scenarios (and a number betwixt) has been Yokota’s lovely Mother.

I don’t know how many memos, or albums, I have missed since Susumu was banging out hit after hit on the Leaf label, but I’m sure he used to be more ambient than this. You know the score: plaintive notes stretched over bone-white backgrounds that you listened to while your shaggy post-metal beard was in its philosophical goatee stage. You looked up from the current issue of Jalouse that you were idly thumbing in the Waterstone's coffee shop as a certain sonic detail caught your attention. And then back to your consideration of minimalist orange chairs.

But things change, and so does Yokota. It probably wasn't his intention to release a 1980s goth-pop album, but that's what he has done. More precisely, it sounds like a collection of late 1990s goth-metal ballads. Like if Paradise Lost circa One Second had dropped the guitars entirely and hired the singer from The Gathering. (I hate those multi-band comparisons too, but this is so goth-metal ballads.)

If you're not a fan of goth-metal – if not, why not? – don't let this description turn you off. Mother just as quickly recalls a less crystalline, but equally stillness-of-winter Vespertine. It has the forlorn beauty of a crisp January morning; the kind where it seems the cold has become so pronounced as to freeze the moment entirely. The thinnest twigs on trees live-pause with semi-frozen droplets just begging to plunge to the damp floor below as the closest thing to a sound is your breath escaping you in condensation. That kind of winter stillness.

There is even a hint of Herbert's relaxed jazztronica here. 'Love Tendrilises', in addition to an awkwardly poetic title, boasts keys and synth-string swells, as vocals sigh declarations of love in the daze of a thousand Sunday morning yawns. It's the Independent, under the covers, in a city-centre flat. Keep the Eggs Benedict runny, darling.

Though I try to avoid such a damning statement, even don't intend it as a slight, this is rather dinner party stuff. But you could level that accusation at Herbert, Frou Frou and Red Snapper, and they've put out some quality over the years.

Yokota avoids this with the Depeche-goes-doom of 'A Flower White' or 'Suture' with their respectively bizarre vocal melodies, percussion of distant approaching armies and the kind of general ambient menace that wouldn’t surprise you if it turned up on the next sunnO))) album. This kind of thing is certainly at odds with the pristine aesthetic the cover and Björkisms suggest. They certainly add depth and an element of surprise.

Occasionally the vocals grate, such as the too-high notes on 'A Flower White', but they are generally of such timbre to complement the synthesised naturalism, the warm romanticism, of the tones while never threatening to steal the show. They are a microcosm of Mother: a lovely – if emotionally confusing – way to spend an hour that edifies without changing your life.

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