“‘The Illuminated Nightingale’ is an album based on the concept of ‘night’, portraying an entire evening from dusk to dawn.”
– label description for The Illuminated Nightingale (via Noble)
Have you ever stayed up all night? Not intentionally, I mean. I’m talking about lying awake at night and watching the ceiling. You close your eyes, and when you get tired of doing that, you just keep staring at the ceiling. The breathing of an air conditioner is your only soundtrack. Maybe you try to read to pass the time. Maybe you go outside and walk the deserted streets, looking for nothing in particular. Looking for something.
Time starts behaving strangely here. You come face to face with the enormity of time itself, bounded between the red LED glow of 4:16 and 4:17 AM.
These are the things that come to mind when listening to The Illuminated Nightingale, the debut album by Osaka-based musician Motoomi Doi. See, there is an overarching monotony to The Illuminated Nightingale, but I hazard that it might actually be part of the point. Like lying awake at night watching your alarm clock, the album seems to operate on its own skewed timescale. I dare say you could drift off to sleep during the opening track, wake up during the closing, and you wouldn’t be entirely sure if you were asleep for 40 minutes or 4 minutes or 4 hours. If you put the album on repeat, would you really notice?
This is not to say that the The Illuminated Nightingale is a homogenous album. Indeed, close listening reveals a world of subtle gestures. Doi’s palette is certainly a muted one, but his instrumentation is nothing short of beautiful. The plinking of a piano in one track becomes a synth line in the next and somewhere along the line turns into an acoustic guitar. But even listening to the album as I type, I must admit that I’ve become a bit disoriented. Which track am I on?
Sorry, did I accidentally nod off?
Doi’s idiosyncratic vocals certainly play a part in the effect. Indeed, Doi’s voice will most likely be the first thing you notice on the album. Like hushed whispers shouted and strained through a telephone, Doi’s nasally voice walks the fine line between heartfelt sincerity and grating melodrama. Sean Nicholas Savage seems an apt comparison, and like Other Life, The Illuminated Nightingale requires something of a leap of faith. Cynical listeners might want to look elsewhere. There are moments when Doi appears to be on the verge of breaking down in tears mid verse, and I’m still not sure if the coughing at the beginning and end of “Cafard” is genuine or not (though this singing must certainly be taking a toll on his vocal cords).
But if you choose to buy into the whole thing, there’s something profoundly beautiful at work here. This is a concept album in the strictest sense of the term, and while I look forward to hearing what Doi can do with a broader and more diverse sonic palette, I can’t seem to get The Illuminated Nightingale out of my head. And in the end, perhaps that’s recommendation enough. Just don’t be surprised if the next time you find yourself awake in the middle of the night, staring at the ceiling, you start to hear the plinking of a piano over the drone of your air conditioner.