[7 March 2007]
The entity known as Radicalfashion is actually the musical project of one Hirohito Ihara, to this point a musical unknown, but perhaps not for long—the buzz surrounding his little project is palpable, a project that is managing to extract some rather impressive scores from some mighty influential rags. It’s all with good reason, too, as there is really nobody else making music like this. It’s where the romantic era and the electronic age meet; it’s Odori.
“Odori” is the Japanese word for “dance”, yet even as Ihara’s instrument of choice is the keyboard, and even as his electronic inclinations often threaten to overpower his classical ones, this is not “dance” in the way we normally think of it. There will be no late nights at clubs moving to the pulsing beats of Odori—Odori barely has beats at all, much less pulsing ones. Odori is “dance” the way you think of a group of fireflies in a pitch black forest, the way the moon plays off the ocean waves. Odori carries with it a much more natural definition of dance than the sort of awkward human lockstep we tend to associate with the word.
After something that sounds like drops of water poured on steel drums, we are treated to Odori‘s true first movement, in the form of something called “Suna”, which not only serves as a display of Ihara’s artistic sensibility, but of his technique as well. “Suna” is chock full of Debussy’s chord progressions as applied to one of Chopin’s Études, almost entirely a traditional piano piece for two hands (save for a string-based epilogue), only electronically enhanced slightly toward the end of the track’s bridge by allowing for four hands and a little bit of extra precision. It’s a beautiful piece that gives us an idea of Ihara’s background, not to mention that it’s the perfect way of showing us exactly what Ihara will be deconstructing over the course of the album.
And deconstruct it he does, in ways that would make classical purists cringe. The eight tracks that remain once “Suna” concludes ebb and flow not in mood so much as they do in style—this is almost all quiet listening, though there is a big difference between the twinkling, plucked melodies in something like “Ballet” and the quiet, repetitive, fade-in atmospherics of “Usunibi”, two tracks that actually appear right next to each other on the album. One track even dares to combine the two sensibilities: “Shousetsu”, whose title is apparently Japan’s term for a drama based on a novel, starts with the beautifully stark repetition of an intake of breath followed by the click-clack of a machine, perhaps a monitor of some sort. Slowly and quietly, a lovely, building piano piece makes its way into the mix, providing humanity to the chill of the breath and the machine, eventually going so far as to replace those colder elements altogether… and yet, the chill wins, replacing the gorgeous piano with but a click, ending the song on the sounds of the machine. It’s a sad, beautiful piece, entirely emblematic of the achievement of the album as a whole.
It’s easy to find problems, sure. Some of the more experimental bits drag on too long. The album as a whole never seems to go anywhere. Ihara’s piano playing is pretty, but never revelatory. Still, to dwell on those things is to miss the point. Odori is about showing respect to the old and the new, allowing them to play together, to complement each other in ways that aren’t immediately obvious. Ihara treads the line between his various personalities wonderfully, resulting in a work that is as fascinating as it is utterly peaceful and, oftentimes, beautiful.