Susumu Yokota

Love or Die

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Since Susumu Yokota's celebrated Sakura album, which earned him a reputation as a master of ambient electronics and an international audience of deep listeners, the Japanese producer has remained restlessly active and exploratory, releasing upwards of a dozen albums in less than a decade, no two of them quite alike. Without relying on an obvious gimmick, like 2005's Western art music pastiche Symbol, or an overtly conceptual approach, like its immediate predecessor, Wonder Waltz, Love or Die simply offers another reshuffling of Yokota's familiar assortment of musical fascinations, and the result may be the clearest encapsulation yet of his unique, multifarious vision. Love continues Waltz's conceit of using exclusively triple-meter time signatures, but while that album was a fussy, stylistically sprawled collection that sounded like it was trying desperately to explore as many rhythmic iterations and textural juxtapositions as possible, these tracks are far more fluid and cohesive, and somehow less rhythmically overbearing even though they have possibly the most prominent beats of any of his ostensibly "ambient" albums. Eschewing vocals (and collaborators of any sort, for the first time in a while), and generally limiting percussive content to a single looped phrase per track (be it a jungle-esque breakbeat, a stately, minimal jazz groove, or a straightforward three-legged disco glide), he hones in instead on lush, consonant sonorities and lyrical melodic structures not unlike the classical music he vivisected to create Symbol. While attending closely to musical and textural nuance, Yokota allows his compositions ample room to breathe, making for a record that feels more relaxed, and is easier to relax to, than anything he's done in years, even if it has little in common with the minimalism of his earlier ambient work. For that matter, it has little to do with most of what is typically thought of as "electronica," even though it features as many synthetic instruments as "real" ones (pianos, most notably) -- you might find parallels in the more melodious end of Aphex Twin's output, or Boards of Canada's pastoral reveries, but it's closer in effect to a sort of futuristic chamber music, one unabashedly fixated on sweetness, purity, and beauty. The ponderous track names may be rather ridiculously bombastic (if appropriately flowery and evocative), but the music itself is appealingly unassuming and gentle, making Love or Die less of an emphatic declaration than a strong understatement.

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