“Looking at something humans didn’t create for 15 minutes a day helps you maintain a connection to the natural world.”
~ Takeshi Yoro
For a brief period when I was seven, I experienced severe eye pain and migraines. As doctors puzzled over the source of my symptoms, my mother offered a simple comfort: the color green. Her advice was to take occasional breaks from whatever I was doing and look at something green. Though seemingly arbitrary, being a child and in unbearable pain made me eager to play follow the leader. I tried the technique on a number of sources, from the coral trees that surrounded my school to the colorful murals that line the Los Angeles freeways, but I found it most effective when the object was natural. I shared this observation with my mother and she agreed, noting there is a healing element distinct to nature.
That the culprit wound up being an excessively strong eyeglass prescription seems an appropriate coda to the story. Sometimes human advances unnecessarily complicate the very matter they are trying to address. In trying to exert control over a natural situation, the natural world often has a way to remind us of the clearer path.
A similar scenario is being played out in the rock world, where musicians grapple with analog and digital formats. While some respond with an extreme — either remaining products of a digital-born upbringing or following a vintage granola diet — others use one force to balance the other; the yin of MIDI, ProTools, and Kraftwerkian automation faces the yang of vintage instruments, reel-to-reel, and hippie animism.
In a sense, Miho Hatori has always kept the company of the latter. Her breakout group Cibo Matto crafted sound collages that blurred the line between performance and samples, original and manufactured. Though she split after a brief stint, Hatori continued to refine manageable, modern pop from a rich set of influences. With Butter 08 and the first Gorillaz project, she frankensteined distinctly now sounds from punk sneers and funk melodies. Her recent troll with Smokey Hormel through Baden Powell’s inimitable catalog of ’60s bossa nova avoided intellectual traps, like side project esotericism and slavish history worship, by embracing breezy spontaneity. In this manner, Hatori has consistently filtered the sophistication of the modern world with an earthy sensibility.
Ecdysis, the title of Hatori’s debut solo album, is also an apt illustration of the artist’s aesthetic. Likening artistic process to the constant shedding of skin, she sees creative growth as a natural function of her being — organic progress in every sense. So, though her music continues to move forward, sampling and editing with the most modern means, it also remains rooted in the human experience. Hence, her current music refreshes her past body of work, namely: Cibo Matto’s kitchen sink pastiche, albeit with a quieter boom; and Smokey and Miho’s Brazilophilia, now expanded to a pan-continental rhythmic undercurrent.
As usual, Hatori makes this accessible by focusing equal parts on the familiar and new. “Barracuda” shuffles down a solid samba path before patiently layering ecstatic horns and carny keys to soundtrack a snorkeling adventure. She spreads out on “Spirit of Juliet”, an ethereal cobweb that inverts the old school heartbreak of Giulietta degli Spiriti Fellini into an industrial slo-mo bounce. Hatori makes it sound all so simple with a combination of clever engineering and personal ingenuity: each sound is muted and filtered subtly, so the panoply melts into each other; but she also arranges and selects instruments carefully, so that no one voice ever competes with the other. This way, “Sweet Samsara, Part II” up, hustles and bustles to an even keel of Gamelan, Indian and Cuban percussion, as well as glitchy programming. On paper the idea sounds chaotic, but, like nature, contains a distinct order.
As much as Ecdysis represents a personal leap forward — a coming out, if you will — it also follows a pattern in Hatori’s career: of feeling incomplete. Each of her projects has ended with a remarkably personal and/or creative statement that suggests her “big hit” is right around the corner. “Spoon” provided a soulful center to Cibo Matto’s final release Stereotype A, but only hinted at the group’s depth. “Ocean in Your Eyes”, an original Smokey & Miho composition, broke the group’s tribute repertoire, but the project had reached its conclusion by then. Likewise, Ecdysis contains no big tune, no hit that will define Hatori. However, this is the point: the artist remains in perpetual transition. Hatori’s connection between her work and nature’s recycling course makes Ecdysis a welcome reintroduction to an artist we can grow old with.