After the calm, measured beauty of Sakura, versatile Japanese producer Susumu Yokota followed a comparatively experimental and eclectic path on Grinning Cat. The beats are more prevalent (though never as floor-friendly as his voluminous house, trance, and techno releases), the instrumentation is more varied, and the overall feel shifts markedly from track to track. Piano is the dominant instrument here, just as guitar was for Sakura. But Yokota's skill with context finds him tailoring the sound of the instrument to suit each individual track. "Imagine" uses a hazy piano loop and vocal samples seemingly lifted from sacred music to achieve a thoughtful, meditative effect. The keyboard refrain, strings, and choir samples that make up "Card Nation" possess a stately, pseudo-classical air, while the blurry, nocturnal piano of "Sleepy Eye" imparts the wistful sense of wonder perfected by Boards of Canada. "Lapis Lazuli" is anguished pop with minimalist instrumental touches, loose trip-hop drum programming, and a plainly stated piano melody out front. Yokota's compositional acumen and spare use of digital signal processing give his music a unique sound, one clearly electronic without fetish for process or technology, and Grinning Cat is a fine display of his ample talent.
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AllMusic Review by Mark Richardson