When he first emerged in 2008, a then 18-year-old Justin Nozuka had an easy, meditative grace about him that many singers spend their entire careers trying to achieve. His soulful, meandering R&B-flavored songs took cues from artists like Jeff Buckley and Lauryn Hill, and if he occasionally overextended his sensitive, heartfelt crooning, it was still generally more subtle than a lot of artists twice his age. Six years later, his third LP, Ulysees, shows that he's not afraid to alter and develop his sound. The spare, ethereal Ulysees follows a very distinct aesthetic, coming across more as a work than an album of songs. Introduced by the lyricless choral piece "Nest," Nozuka's warm tenor voice suddenly appears out of the darkness with the solo a cappella "Dreaming" before dovetailing smoothly into its lush companion piece, "Eyes Changing Colour." Barely six minutes into the album, you're wholly drawn into his world of Eno/Lanois ambient-scapes and distant dream-brother ballads. Accompanying himself throughout with gently picked electric and acoustic guitars and lush choral sections, Nozuka has worked hard to leave plenty of open space, often letting his guitar parts trail off just as the vocals enter and vice versa. This type of understated, spatially minded arranging is difficult to pull off and takes patience and thought, yet somehow he stitches these ten unique pieces together so that absolutely nothing feels unnecessary or out of place. The tone he sets is more mysterious and warmly reflective than elegiac, and it's easy to get lost in this austere work of art. How he managed to unpretentiously transform himself from gentle soul-pop balladeer to ambient semi-classical song composer is just part of the mystery of this extremely talented young artist.
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AllMusic Review by Timothy Monger