The world of Ambient electronica can be a dark, inpenetrable one, full of limited editions, white labels and imposing shops that more closely resemble the stark white confines of an art gallery than mere record emporiums. Every so often, however, an artist comes along who throws uncompromising light on the form, highlighting its multifareous strengths and, through increased media coverage, giving the genre some much needed accessibility.
Most recently, Boards Of Canada are the most obvious example, but significant too has been the work of one Susumu Yokota, a Japanese laptop composer working in many different genres and fields but whose forays into the world of ambience have gained him unrelenting critical acclaim on these shores.
Grinning Cat is Yokota's third album in just over a year for the superlative Leaf label, and it's glorious tangle of crystalline melody, soothing hums and sighing vocal samples exists as both confirmation and betterment of the work established on those two previous albums, rapidly establishing a body of work that may, in time, be important as Brian Eno's contribution to the Ambient genre.
Eno's influence is noticable throughout this record, both in it's judicious use of musical space and it's lethargic minimalist ethic, but Yokota also imbues his music with other, less obvious, sources. The dominant instrument here is the piano, and the stark, cascading treble motifs Yokota scatters liberally over his compositions seem indebted to, among others, the gifted modern classical composer Ryuichi Sakamoto, while the gentle spirtuality that pervades much of the music here is reminiscent of Thomas Newman's score for American Beauty. Elsewhere, the ghost of Steve Reich seems omnipresent, overlapping marimba melodies undoubtedly informed by the titans of minimalist composition, Reich and Glass.
And yet, despite this high mindedness and its relative lack of beats (although the crisp snares on 'King Dragonfly' have to be heard to be believed), the album remains resolutely accessible, never once succumbing to sterile experimentalism. It's tempting to give this record, virtually flawless as it is, full marks, but given Yokota's high work rate, his next collection of incandescent soundscapes may well prove even better.
9Tom Eyers's Score