Singer-songwriter and guitarist Satomimagae makes music like gossamer, laced with subtle complexities almost too delicate to fully comprehend. On moody new album Hanazono, her fourth full-length release to date and first to come out on RVNG Intl. and Kikagaku Moyo’s Guruguru Brain, those threads come together in compositions of melancholic folk that flow sweetly between soothing and unsettling.
At the heart of each song is Satomimagae, her voice a cool murmur alongside her gauzy strings, in constant motion through atmospheric ephemera: reverberating drones and field recordings that refract her sounds to create an organic fullness. Like so many acoustically-oriented artists before her – Nick Drake, José González, and hundreds more – Satomimagae walks the line between haunting and heartfelt by working from a sense of intimacy that encompasses both and leaves room for her specific viewpoint. That is what makes Satomimagae’s rendition of tried-and-true, vaguely psychedelic indie-folk unique to her. Even through a fog of co-producer Hideki Urawa’s touches of electric guitar and bird calls, she holds her listener close to a straightforward acoustic core anchored by stillness.
This stillness, importantly, is not the same as stasis. Hanazono, which means “flower garden”, is always moving and growing, albeit often slowly and steadily. There is a meandering to the album’s progression that feels natural rather than measured – no extremes, but minute mood shifts. Eerie, stripped-down opening track “Hebisan” flows into the sublime layers of sound on “Manuke”, which gives way to the quicker and more intricate melodic turns of “Suiheisen”. On “Tsuchi”, Satomimagae grounds back in earthier sensibilities, rooting even deeper into negative space on “Houkou”, where she raises her voice as close to a shout as anywhere on the album. “Uzu” sees her at her simplest and gentlest; she crescendos once again on lusciously resonant “Kaze”.
The single “Numa” sways, the album’s most concretely constructed and articulated track, with Urawa’s substantial but never overpowering electric guitar giving the song a low end that balances out Satomimagae’s airiness in satisfying ways. The next track “Ashi” sees her once again untethered and fully buoyant. On “Ondo”, she gains momentum and spirals into a slight whirlwind that billows outward on noisy, instrumental “Kouji”. On the final track, “Uchu”, she strums with feverish intent to bring Hanazono to a swirling close, bringing energy so intense but so in keeping with the album’s gradual movements that it feels like a natural culmination rather than a shock to the system. Only listening back to the beginning again reveals how far the album has come since its spartan start.
It can be tempting to write off albums like Hanazono as one-note works, beautiful but unchanging when such is not the case. Satomimagae is remarkable for the exquisite artistic understatement she embraces from track to track and album to album, as well as the care and craft that assures her audience that it is all purposeful. Like nature itself, this is an album by turns stormy and serene, as meditative as it is simmering with dormant, primal power, and Satomimagae’s music continues to be well worth deep listening and concerted meditation.