Call for Essays About Any Aspect of Popular Culture, Present or Past

Music
cover art

Nagisa Ni Te

Yosuga

(Secretly Canadian; US: 23 Sep 2008; UK: 22 Sep 2008)

Yosuga starts with a bird call—not a live recording of birds but a whistle that imitates them, a toylike, plastic sound, a purling twitter. The twitter leads into sunny piece of twee-pop named “Premonition”. A keyboard wootles, an acoustic guitar is strummed. Shinji Shibayama sings about dew in accented English. He deals with the tricky problem of the foreign dental fricative by saying, “zha” in place of “the.” The song is charming. You might anticipate that the whole album is going to be like this. You believe it will be sweet-natured and jangly, abjuring all evil. If it were a t-shirt it would come from Threadless and have a picture of a smiling rainbow on the front. “Wa oo wa oo wa. Wa oo wa oo wa”, sings Masako Tameda like a woman contemplating a landscape soothed by warm breezes and covered with daisies.


After “Premonition”, the music changes. It’s as if it has sensed your expectations and decided to thwart them. No, it is not going to be like that after all. As the album hits “Seven Seas”, it slows its pace, strums turn into twangs, the gleeful tone stretches out lazily and yawns, and the gentleness that seemed charming in the first song takes on the gummy texture of syrup in the second. We lose the minor eccentricity of the bird noise. The fake tweet served a distancing function. It gave the song a playful edge, letting us know that we didn’t have to take the sweetness too much to heart. We could enjoy the song for its lightness and cuteness, its Hello Kitty vibe. Once the tweet vanishes, an uncomfortable feeling creeps in: these people are sincere. We’re supposed to be moved. By this? By slow twangs and drawn-out notes sung in a voice which, as we now have time to realise, sounds flat? Oh no.


The rest of the album hovers between those two states, cheerful indie and sincere power pop, without satisfying either side. A guitar comes in on some of the songs to rowl and strike poses, patently insincere, self-absorbed, grandstanding, ambitious. Next to Shibayama’s lo-fi Thom-Yorke-circa-Pablo-Honey vocals it sounds misplaced, as if two songs from different albums are trying to coexist in the same crowded space. Humility clashes with hubris. The guitar asks to be accompanied by a decisive, well-trained mainstream pop voice and Nagisa Ni Te gives it fumbling modesty. There are ways that this combination might work—the humility and the hubris could pull against one another, setting up opposition within the song, acknowledging the disparity between them, counterpointing one another, an argument melting into give and take on both sides, perhaps—but there’s none of that here. They’re shoved next to one another with no acknowledgment of their differences.


Maybe that lack of acknowledgment is the point, and the guitar is a droll punchline to a musical joke that I don’t understand yet. Even taking that into account this isn’t a great album. The flatness gets monotonous after a while. There don’t seem to be enough ideas to go around. I try to think of words to describe it and everything I come up with is favourable but not enthusiastic. It’s a fairly pretty album. It’s quite nice. It makes time pass. Things like that.

Rating:

Tagged as: japan | nagisa ni te
Related Articles
10 Mar 2005
Prince once sang of hearing songs in his dreams, so does that mean Shinji Shibayama is like the unpronounceable one? Nagisa ni te, his collaboration with Masako Takeda, has enjoyed a number of comparisons, some more likely than others to be be invoked while listening to the duo's latest, Dream Sounds. Dig a little deeper, and you'll find a tender beauty that is neither Belle nor Sebastian, Neil nor Young, here nor there.
discussion by
Comments
Now on PopMatters
PM Picks
Announcements

© 1999-2014 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters.com™ and PopMatters™ are trademarks
of PopMatters Media, Inc.

PopMatters is wholly independently owned and operated.