In March 2011, Juta Takahashi’s home and home studio were badly damaged by the earthquake which resulted in the horrible tsunami that devastated Northern Japan. (Living in a hilly area, he was spared the ravages of the water.) In an e-mail to me at the time he said he wasn’t sure how long it would be before he made music again. Blessedly, just over a year later he’s back with four long-form ambient pieces on Angel. It seems like there are two sides to Angel; one offers Eno-like structures where long-drawn pads coast like patient clouds, touched with an intermittent and more tactile element and the other is made of bigger, amorphous, drone-based structures. On the opening track, “Bright Waters,” Takahashi mixes piano into the flow, single, meaningful notes dropping like early rain on a pond, spattering lightly against electronic sparkle and rising pads. There’s a nice undertone of drone at work here. “Fairy’s Blues” also floats dreamily along, its wispy pads accented early on with a vocal sample that’s a very nice touch. This is the softest piece here, bringing mental references to Eno in the calm and dreamy simplicity of its movement. The other two tracks are more drone/pad-based ambient pieces, deep washes of densely stratified sound. I must say that I had some difficulty getting into the title track. Takahashi’s layers here are very crisp and very high–but, at times, high almost to the point of being grating. A sound like a rainstick held too close to a microphone runs through it like static. To be fair, this may be more of an issue when listening in headphones, or at too high a volume. In a quieter, distanced listen the effect was softened somewhat, but there were still places where an air of dissonance took me out of the flow. By the same token, there where also points where I also found myself drifting pleasantly along–so much so that I checked iTunes wondering if I’d changed tracks. I hadn’t. Over repeat listens, the track has grown on me, but it’s my least favorite of the quartet. “Fair Winds,” which ends the journey, begins as a long, swirling gathering of dopplering drones. Takahashi smooths it out over time, converting it into a hushed, almost hymn-like tone. A church bell peals in the midst of the flow, its voice clear and reverential.
Angel is an excellent deep listen. Takahashi is extremely detail-oriented in his work. He finds full purpose in the smallest sounds, and it’s pleasing to give these subtleties your full attention. The long format gives the listener plenty of time to find their way all the way down into the sound. I’ve always found that Takahashi’s work conveys a lot of true emotional content. It has a soul-stirring quality to it, but he accomplishes this gently, coaxing the response from his listener with sustained, deep-reaching feeling. Angel is another beautiful work from a talented ambient craftsman.
Available from Lunisolar Records.