watery, raining-in-buckets sound bookends Odori, Hiohito Ihara’s debut as radicalfashion. And though the Japanese pianist “links the sea with his ‘liking for some kind of nostalgia’” (according to his label’s website), neither the sea nor nostalgia are readily apparent on the majority of songs that make up this small collection. Then again, Ihara makes the kind of nearly faultless rough-and-smooth ambient music that leaves writers grasping (and gasping) for various overblown natural world descriptors (it’s like snow! or the sky! or water!)—as if this kind of sublime touch must be beyond humankind.
And with good reason, as Odori packs a ridiculous amount of texture, melody, and ideas into the slim runtime (32:15); in a genre or set of genres where most artists are content to run a one-note song into the ground over the course of seven or eight minutes, he never even breaks four and a half. On the one hand, it’s as if the Boats had a more varied palette and a better sense of when to stop; on a more positive note, it’s almost as if Mountains had been forced to make a pop album. Ihara keeps his instrumental range fairly limited—just piano, electronics, and the manipulated human voice—but the results are wonderfully multihued.
radicalfashion seems especially fond of having his songs change tack in almost jarring ways; whereas “Shousetsu” shifts from the sound of a ticking clock or cycling machinery to graceful piano runs, the earlier “Thousand” interrupts its pristine, fluttery piano-and-electronics atmosphere with a sudden swing into a rougher-edged industrial loop. “Photo Dynasmo” shifts from close, breathy female vocals to the kind of far-off piano tinkle that would suit the ending to a particularly good children’s TV show. But the real prize here is first song proper, “Suna,” which suggests that as interesting as the atmospheres and manipulations Ihara indulges in are, he could easily get away with just his piano playing. And when it inevitably brings in a new sound near the end of the track, it’s in the form of ravishingly beautiful string-based melancholy, possibly the single most affecting passage here. On first listen these changes seem arbitrary and make the record feel slight, but within just a few plays they come to serve as bridges between tracks, a reminder of Odori’s density of ideas.
Odori isn’t perfect, or perfectly chosen. While the glittering highlight “Thousand” features electronic composer Carl Stone, so does the subsequent “Usunibi,” which would work better as a faintly howling interlude than an actual track, let alone one of the longest ones here; and “Shunpoudoh” seems a bit gimmicky in its reliance on bouncing voice samples. But at its best—particularly “Suna,” the shimmering “Toh Koh,” and “Shousetsu”—radicalfashion justifies any amount of bluster. It’s rare this kind of debut makes you wish its maker would go in several directions at once (I’d love to hear Ihara explore both solo piano and more severe electronic mess), but Odori suggests that whatever direction he goes, radicalfashion is worth following.
Reviewed by: Ian Mathers
Reviewed on: 2007-02-28