Aoki Takamasa & Tujiko Noriko: Twenty-Eight

The album appears like a beam of sunshine on a warm spring day: pleasant and warm, but of extremely brief duration.

Aoki Takamasa & Tujiko Noriko


Label: Fatcat
US Release Date: 2005-11-15
UK Release Date: 2005-08-22

The guiding principle of progressive electronic music these past few years has been an increasing emphasis on the soft and delicate. Turning away from the harder breakbeats and more aggressive basslines of the fin de siecle, electronic musicians across the spectrum have explored increasingly less substantial sounds, creating melodic and ever more intricate templates that have influenced the fashions in house, techno, trip-hop (such that it is at this late date) and especially IDM. It's instructive to use, for an example of this transformation, the career of electronic polymath Björk. Always one step ahead of current trends, she was well positioned to exploit the changing style. 1997's Homogenic was filled with hard, clattering beats and broad, melodic themes similar in nature to what was then popular, the harder-edged big-beat and occasionally violent techno of artists such as the Chemical Brothers and Prodigy, as well as the harder drum & bass temperament of Aphex Twin and other Warp stablemates ("All Is Full of Love" notwithstanding). By 2001, she had completely switched courses, and Vespertine was similarly a bellwether for the electronic movement: out was the power and aggression; in was the delicacy and restraint. The sound of programmers like Matmos and Matthew Herbert dictated the music's new direction.

In the same way that Björk's later material often buries the lead within deceptively fragile arrangements, Aoki Takamasa and Tujiko Noriko have a habit of hiding their melodies within fragmented, almost crystalline structures that appear too brittle to touch, as if they would break apart at the slightest change in atmospheric pressure. With Twenty-Eight, Takamasa and Noriko have created an interesting album of petite electronic compositions, almost pathologically subdued and entranced by the idea of transient beauty. The album appears like a beam of sunshine on a warm spring day: pleasant and warm, but extremely brief in duration. The duo weave precious melodies -- almost reminiscent of vintage Cocteau Twins -- around the type of scattered electronic backing that would not seem out of place on an album by Herbert, or even up-and-coming glitch-poppers Some Water and Sun. Also, the fact that most of the tracks are sung in Japanese -- a language of which I am pitifully ignorant -- brings to mind another Icelandic import, Sigur Rós, and their hypnotically bizarre (and occasionally frustrating) concoctions of poetically inspired gibberish.

Takamasa and Noriko are both Japanese, expatriates who reside in Paris and perform across the European continent. After having met at a Cartier Foundation event in Paris, they struck up a friendship and commenced a working relationship that proceeded apace despite the fact that, until just over a year ago, Takamasa was still living in Osaka. But the creative synergy experienced in their long-distance collaborations was enough to inspire them to continue, and when Takamasa moved to Paris work on a full-length album became considerably easier.

The fruit of their first formal collaboration, "Fly", is available in slightly amended form as "Fly2", which opens the album on a characteristic note. The diffuse movements and shifting rhythms bring to mind Autechre collaborating with a vocalist -- a willowy Japanese vocalist who has no qualms about allowing her vocal to be warped and stretched to suit the occasion. The rest of the album follows this template: Tracks usually build slowly on the back of a minimally invasive rhythm, unfolding the melody gradually, almost methodically. Even when the rhythm is more assertive, as on "When the Night Comes" or the extremely Autechre-esque "Doki Doki Last Night", the duo seem almost chronically modest, hiding the motion of their track behind a wall of gauze-like reticence.

Ultimately, this is both the album's greatest strength and its most telling weakness. It is a very deftly crafted example of the nouvelle vague in electronic music, bringing to mind the work of peers such as Four Tet and Matmos without falling prey to overt slavishness. But, as with even the best of those artists, the results, while uniformly pretty, can all the same be damningly insubstantial. This is not an album for casual listening, despite its casual exterior. A modicum of effort is required on the part of the listener to appreciate the multiple layers of subtle interaction at the heart of Twenty-Eight. Whether or not this exertion pays off in the end for the listener is perhaps a question of individual temperament.






'World War 3 Illustrated #51: The World We Are Fighting For'

World War 3 Illustrated #51 displays an eclectic range of artists united in their call to save democracy from rising fascism.


Tiphanie Doucet's "You and I" Is an Exercise in Pastoral Poignancy (premiere)

French singer-songwriter Tiphanie Doucet gives a glimpse of her upcoming EP, Painted Blue, via the sublimely sentimental ode, "You and I".


PM Picks Playlist 3: WEIRDO, Psychobuildings, Lili Pistorius

PopMatters Picks Playlist features the electropop of WEIRDO, Brooklyn chillwavers Psychobuildings, the clever alt-pop of Lili Pistorius, visceral post-punk from Sapphire Blues, Team Solo's ska-pop confection, and dubby beats from Ink Project.

By the Book

The Story of Life in 10 1/2 Species (excerpt)

If an alien visitor were to collect ten souvenir life forms to represent life on earth, which would they be? This excerpt of Marianne Taylor's The Story of Life in 10 and a Half Species explores in text and photos the tiny but powerful earthling, the virus.

Marianne Taylor

Exploitation Shenanigans 'Test Tube Babies' and 'Guilty Parents' Contend with the Aftermath

As with so many of these movies about daughters who go astray, Test Tube Babies blames the uptight mothers who never told them about S-E-X. Meanwhile, Guilty Parents exploits poor impulse control and chorus girls showing their underwear.


Deftones Pull a Late-Career Rabbit Out of a Hat with 'Ohms'

Twenty years removed from Deftones' debut album, the iconic alt-metal outfit gel more than ever and discover their poise on Ohms.


Arcade Fire's Will Butler Personalizes History on 'Generations'

Arcade Fire's Will Butler creates bouncy, infectious rhythms and covers them with socially responsible, cerebral lyrics about American life past and present on Generations.


Thelonious Monk's Recently Unearthed 'Palo Alto' Is a Stellar Posthumous Live Set

With a backstory as exhilarating as the music itself, a Thelonious Monk concert recorded at a California high school in 1968 is a rare treat for jazz fans.


Jonnine's 'Blue Hills' Is an Intimate Collection of Half-Awake Pop Songs

What sets experimental pop's Jonnine apart on Blue Hills is her attention to detail, her poetic lyricism, and the indelibly personal touch her sound bears.


Renegade Connection's Gary Asquith Indulges in Creative Tension

From Renegade Soundwave to Renegade Connection, electronic legend Gary Asquith talks about how he continues to produce infectiously innovative music.


What 'O Brother, Where Art Thou?' Gets Right (and Wrong) About America

Telling the tale of the cyclops through the lens of high and low culture, in O'Brother, Where Art Thou? the Coens hammer home a fatalistic criticism about the ways that commerce, violence, and cosmetic Christianity prevail in American society .


A Certain Ratio Return with a Message of Hope on 'ACR Loco'

Inspired by 2019's career-spanning box set, legendary Manchester post-punkers A Certain Ratio return with their first new album in 12 years, ACR Loco.


Oscar Hijuelos' 'Mambo Kings Play the Songs of Love' Dances On

Oscar Hijuelos' dizzyingly ambitious foot-tapping family epic, Mambo Kings Play the Songs of Love, opened the door for Latinx writers to tell their stories in all their richness.


PM Picks Playlist 2: Bamboo Smoke, LIA ICES, SOUNDQ

PopMatters Picks Playlist features the electropop of Bamboo Smoke, LIA ICES' stunning dream folk, Polish producer SOUNDQ, the indie pop of Pylon Heights, a timely message from Exit Kid, and Natalie McCool's latest alt-pop banger.


'Lost Girls and Love Hotels' and Finding Comfort in Sadness

William Olsson's Lost Girls and Love Hotels finds optimism in its message that life tears us apart and puts us back together again differently.


Bright Eyes' 'Down in the Weeds' Is a Return to Form and a Statement of Hope

Bright Eyes may not technically be emo, but they are transcendently expressive, beatifically melancholic. Down in the Weeds is just the statement of grounding that we need as a respite from the churning chaos around us.


Audrey Hepburn + Rome = Grace, Class, and Beauty

William Wyler's Roman Holiday crosses the postcard genre with a hardy trope: Old World royalty seeks escape from stuffy, ritual-bound, lives for a fling with the modern world, especially with Americans.


Colombia's Simón Mejía Plugs Into the Natural World on 'Mirla'

Bomba Estéreo founder Simón Mejía electrifies nature for a different kind of jungle music on his debut solo album, Mirla.

Collapse Expand Reviews

Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.