Motohiro Nakashima: And I Went to Sleep

[8 August 2004]

By Dominic Umile

Contributing Editor

On his web site, Japanese electronic recording artist Motohiro Nakashima discusses music that was important to him as he developed his songwriting skills. Unfortunately, this is some of the only information that my primitive computer allowed me to read because of a language barrier dilemma. So Nakashima mentions his recording history, about his evolution from demo to album, from drum machine to computer, from passing out tapes to friends to having his quality nighttime odes pressed to compact disc for the prestigious Lo Recordings of London, England.

Again, in the only text I could read from the site, Nakashima mentions a tough time he had swallowing the early Beatles stuff and a strong interest in Simon and Garfunkel. And I Went to Sleep is Motohiro Nakashima’s first signed release, and he attributes this full-length album to the works of Paul and Art. While the duo travels about the U.S. in some sort of reunion endeavor, a successful one I’m told, those who don’t have the paycheck to spend on “Cathy’s Song” live will revel in this brilliantly crafted collection of songs by a gent who found his way to songwriting with help of their records.

In 2004, an outfit who is said to be heavily influenced by the Kinks, for example, will generally sound exactly like the Kinks, sometimes borrowing generously from Dave’s hot riffs. Some of us turn our noses up at such an act of brazen thievery. Motohiro Nakashima’s work shows only a subtle layer of his influences, as his first album is an effort entirely of his own, owing more than a helping of his electronic wizardry to the very revealing title. And I Went to Sleep is just that: a delicate instrumental lullaby, not interrupted by otherwise intrusive vocals but by Nakashima’s presumably different definitions of a sleep-lulling composition.

As experimentalist Four Tet so diligently achieved on last year’s Rounds, Nakashima combines his taste for laptop techno beatmaking with organic sounds on Sleep. He’ll occasionally disrupt an altogether electronically composed track with meandering xylophone keys, and he does so on “Meow”. Sounding not far from the pulsing keyboard tones that occupied The Postal Service record, “Meow” can easily be seen as a comfortable supplement to Lost in Translation‘s score, or the sped-up scenes in Requiem for a Dream. When the stuttering programmed beats enter after about 25 seconds or so, the piece has only begun an introductory sequence for the rest of the record, and everything changes from there. The xylophone segment playfully follows the ever-present synth melody that opens And I Went to Sleep. In his web-friendly confessions, Motohiro has neglected to mention a possibly unconscious interest in jazz trickery that plays a significant part on his album.

Though this jazzy element doesn’t infiltrate every track, one can’t help but notice a general jazz café feel on “Shh”, the album’s fifth track. A skittery bass loop is in the foreground here, and Nakashima noodles around on shrill piano keys that sound as if they’re being agitated in the corner of a pub, particularly when he allows ambient crowd noise to enter and exit. It’s unsettling for the most part, as if building toward some kind of disaster. The crowd noise enters and exits, enters and exits again. Haunting ivories are still present, as are the driving bass tones. When the crowd sounds disappear entirely, it’s as if the group has shuffled to find another corner tavern hosting more interesting entertainment. I challenge thee to find such an establishment.

When Nakashima put “Rain” together, he may not have had bedtime on the brain. It’s more of a Friday night number; one that invites sleepless episodes of booze-induced frenzy rather than encouraging a trip to Slumberland. The hissing robot beats are far more obvious here than any other track on the disc, with chimes that wash over an ever present hypnotic bass driven melody. “Rain” seems to multiply in girth over time. The sleepy ambience is undoubtedly here, but it goes nearly unnoticed under the spell of the dancey skittering beats. These efforts give the impression that Nakashima’s demo releases are worth searching out as well, as his definition of nighttime’s backdrop differs from moment to moment, forever morphing into something alien but strangely comforting.

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