Susumu Yokota Mother

[Lo; 2009]

Styles: light, minimal electronica with vocals
Others: Terry Reilly, Phillip Glass, Trentemøller, Ryuichi Sakamoto

Japan's Susumu Yokota has blessed the world with a long, varied, and prosperous artistic career. Since the early- to mid-’90s, he has released around two dozen albums, ranging from minimal house to experimental ambient, while maintaining a profile as a DJ. Legends in their own time, Philip Glass, Brian Eno, and Thom Yorke have all showered his work with praise. While all the works I've previously heard have featured very few (if any) words outside of song titles, Mother immediately separates itself from the pack with its heavy use of vocals. The goal is noble, as Susumu doesn't merely want to recycle his back catalog to existing legions of fans.

In the press release, Yokota is quoted as saying, "I asked artists who I respect to collaborate with me to widen my own expression." And the guestlist directed to this aim is impressive. The tracklisting names the vocal assistance of Leaf's Nancy Elizabeth, Casper Clausen of Efterklang, Japanese diva Kaori, and two members of The Chap. However, even with all those names involved and Yokota's experience in the studio, there is just something a little off about Mother.

Instead of reinforcing the delicate whimsy of the electro-acoustic instrumentals, most of the vocals end up making the songs somewhat cheesy and obvious. "Reflect Mind" stands up as one of the clear highlights, largely because the vocals only consist of cooing and sighing, which match the mood of the reversing piano flowing in and out of a light synth warp rather than cluttering it with concepts and directions about how to feel. It lends itself to deeper contemplation than all the ‘open your huge shiny blue eyes/ gather all your strength’ twee rambling ever could. "Inside Foresighted" and "Warmth" also find themselves stronger for lack of words.

All told, I think "Suture" is the only lyrical track that works. Anna Bronsted (Our Broken Garden) and Casper Clamsen provide that cut with the right kind of haunting ethereality over a sparse downtempo beat, driven by hypnotically reverberated percussion, a pulsing atmosphere, ghostly guitars, and gong punctuation. The rest of the time, Nancy Elizabeth (who appears on five tracks — or someone doing their best Nancy Elizabeth impression) fails to add anything that isn't already being said by the music.

Of course, to put my prejudices on the table, Nancy bores me to tears on the best of days. She seems to have only one tone of voice, and that happens to be the tone for much of Susumu's 30th odd record. It cancels out the mood, leveling the tracks out and causing ineffectual aural doldrums. The vocals on "Suture" succeed by creating enough of a contrast with the music to establish their own presence (even though they are roughly the same as the rest of the vocals there), and, what's more, they leave enough room for the track to breathe. If given the same consideration, "12 Days 12 Nights" would easily be one of the album's best. Full marks for the effort, though. At least we know Susumu is trying his best.

1. Love Tendrilises feat. Casper Clausen & Anna Bronsted
2. Breeze feat. Nancy Elizabeth
3. A Ray Of Light feat. Nancy Elizabeth
4. A Flower White feat. Nancy Elizabeth
5. The Natural Process feat. Caroline Ross
6. Reflect Mind feat. Nancy Elizabeth & Kaori
7. Inside Foresighted feat. Kaori
8. Meltwater feat. Caroline Ross & Kaori
9. Tree Surgeon feat. Kaori, Claire Hope, & Panos Ghikas
10. Suture feat. Casper Clausen & Anna Bronsted
11. Bondo feat. Kaori
12. 12 Days 12 Nights feat. Nancy Elizabeth
13. Warmth

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