Yoyogi Park is the third album in a trilogy of collaborations between two Germans, electronic musician Lawrence and artist Stefan Marx, recorded for the Japanese label Mule Musiq. It follows Films & Windows (2013) and A Day in the Life (2014). Lawrence’s music and Marx’s cover art are meant to evoke the titular Tokyo landmark. The ten lengthy tracks here do succeed in projecting a feeling of placid repose. Most of them are danceable, actually, but almost in an accidental way. If Yoyogi Park is a dynamic, metropolitan place, there is little evidence of it here.
This should not come as a surprise to anyone who is familiar with the rest of the trilogy, or any of Lawrence’s work, for that matter. While his music is built around four-on-the-floor house beats, it is more about mood and atmosphere than dynamics.
Yoyogi Park park is no different. The rhythms remain ever-steady, and any modulation comes in the form of precise percussion and the soft, minor-key synth swells that inevitably make their way into each track, linger, and then ebb away.
The question with Lawrence is always how effective he can be at manipulating those core elements into a compelling whole on any given track. If there is any notable difference between Yoyogi Park and its siblings in the trilogy, it’s that Yoyogi Park occasionally gets mildly funky. Or, as funky as Lawrence can get.
“Ava” is probably the best example of this. A thumping bass borrowed from a drum’n’bass track thumps around like a giant lumbering through a forest. Sundry, squishy and bleepy effects circle round, and then the synth pad floats overhead. It’s cavernous and a little eerie, but it actually swings a bit. Similarly, “Nightlife” nearly lives up to its title, with a bass that has a bit of snarl. In this case the effects and synths swirl around and pulse, as if Lawrence’s idea of nightlife is getting down in a planetarium. “Blue Mountain” completes a nice trifecta at the center of the album, with fluttering effects that circle back on themselves, creating a strange yet pretty vibe that represents Lawrence at his best.
There are hints of melody and even jazziness in some of the other tracks. Lawrence has said Yoyogi Park contains samples of live performance from his band, but if so they are folded too-neatly into the electronic milieu. Lawrence’s sense of discipline and control is always impressive. But, as is his tendency, he takes too few risks, relying too much on the subtle opening and closing of tracks, the mere switching on and off of oscillators.
The results are too often simply a bit dull, and with the synthesizers verging on the too-tranquil, Yoyogi Park comes too close to music that is better suited to an elevator or shopping mall than an urban outdoor venue.