In 2020, Patrick Shiroishi released Descension, a raw, unflinching musical interpretation of his grandparents’ experiences in the stateside concentration camps of Japanese-American citizens during World War II. In 2021, he released Hidemi, a searing, cathartic work inspired by his grandfather’s post-war period following his release from the camp. Now, with Evergreen, Shiroishi continues to mine family experiences for inspiration. But this time, the experience is more meditative than primal.
Released on the UK label Touch, Evergreen is the result of Shiroishi’s 2021 visits to Evergreen Cemetery in Los Angeles, where several generations of his family are buried, and Shiroishi often visited as a child. Bringing with him a portable audio recorder, Shiroishi created aural chronicles of his experience while ruminating on his family’s dark history at the hands of their violent, intolerant adopted homeland. He combines those field recordings with synthesizers, clarinet, saxophone, and vocals.
Evergreen is neatly divided and categorized, as the album’s first half contains recordings from daytime visits, and the second half is made up of nighttime trips. It’s more than a bit reminiscent of Across Water, Shiroishi’s sumptuous ambient collaboration with Jessica Ackerley earlier this year. Combining muted musical soundscapes with field recordings has – by design or accident – become Shiroishi’s stock in trade in 2022, and the inspiration he’s garnered from Evergreen Cemetery has paid off spectacularly.
Evergreen begins with “a place where sunflowers grow”, as the thunder and rainfall sounds are gentle but insistent, and a light musical drone is accompanied by the distant chatter of what may be a police radio band. Shiroishi’s synthesizers mesh beautifully with the field recordings as if they’re part of the cemetery’s environment. The notes are foreboding but meditative, looming but seemingly never threatening. Near the song’s halfway mark, the music is much higher in the mix and is combined with ethereal vocalizing.
True to its title, “there is no moment in which they are not with me” seems to evoke the direct purpose of Shiroishi’s latest project: reflection and tribute. The instrumentation is richer and warmer, with low tones mixing with stuttering high-end notes rising above. The grand, enveloping sensation of the music is reminiscent of Brian Eno‘s seminal Music for Airports. Eventually, Shiroishi’s saxophone weaves in and out, introducing an element that fits the overall mood perfectly.
Moving over to the “night” half of the album, “a trickle of water led to a quiet pool, where still, black water reflected the night sky” once again combines the natural sounds of water with lush, ambient chords. The music has a more ghostly feel but is as moving as the song that preceded it. Even at the halfway mark when the synths become slightly more shrill and distorted as if Shiroishi is reflecting on specific family memories and stories that hit hard and are unpleasant to relive.
What sounds like a clarinet – and eventually, multitracked clarinets – introduces “here comes a candle to light you to bed”, and it’s a gentle, almost lullaby-like sensation, with the natural sounds of water replaced by the subtler sounds of crickets. An audio sample of what sounds like someone talking about their immigrant experience is paired with noisy clattering, then thunder, and eventually rain. It may be too on the nose to equate the falling water with some sort of absolution or cleansing, but the effect is gentle, disarming, and oddly calming. As crashing thunder and measured breathing sounds close out Evergreen, one can picture Shiroishi sitting alone at Evergreen Cemetery, the rain washing over him as he contemplates his family’s rich but oppressive history.
To that end, Evergreen – when framed in its intended context – may almost seem too intrusive, as if the listener is privy to an experience that is too personal to the artist. That is one of Shiroishi’s many gifts, which he has given us on previous albums and certainly provides us here: engaging in catharsis and revelation and letting us sit beside him with wide wonder.