Willits + Sakamoto: Ocean Fire

[4 March 2008]

By Timothy Gabriele

“What this music yearns for is a gentle apocalypse”, Simon Reynolds wrote of what he dubbed the “oceanic rock” of the late ‘80s. That sounds about right for Christopher Willits and Ryuichi Sakamoto’s hydro-electric Ocean Fire, a subtly etched cartographic interstition of microtonal pitch shifts, elegiac resonances and freewheeling hard-wired improv. Assembled in benediction to “the healing and restoration of our fragile oceans”, glitch-guitar guru Willits and Yellow Magic Orchestra alumni/ film composer/ sound painter Sakamoto’s unlikely duet spends the breadth of its album exploring elemental afflictions with the flame-snuffing power of long, drawn-out meditations of gentle apocalypse. 

The aural journey is a potentially perilous and difficult boat ride for anybody anticipating swards of melody to come rippling them in to shore, not to mention those tuning in with anything but a pair of headphones and minimal external stimuli. Only the vaguely psychedelic chatter of the dissonant closer “Ocean Sky Remains” contains enough distinguishable digressions and progressions to attract the full ear of one not seated by the speakers in deep concentration of Ocean Fire’s illusive mysticism. Like staring at the waves crashing against the shore, the minimalist electronics of Sakamoto’s processed piano and Willits’s processed guitar don’t necessarily transport you anywhere. But there is new beauty to be found within one’s own reflective gaze in each successive listen, wherein the same ocean, the same sustained harmonics, take on new meaning. The eight minute plus song length for five of the album’s seven tracks can occasionally be doting, but absorbed as a whole, Ocean Fire is lushly satisfying and strangely impenetrable as a sonic monolith. However, the obscuredly frenetic “Umi” (perhaps the most accessible piece on the album) abruptly and unexpectedly cuts out before reaching its third minute, just as the salt water starts to catch fire. What gives? Did the power go out during the record session?

Published at: http://www.popmatters.com/pm/review/willits-sakamoto-ocean-fire/