Susumu Yokota

Wonder Waltz

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As the title suggests, each of the selections on Wonder Waltz is in triple meter, which is fairly unusual for electronica, if nothing necessarily remarkable in itself. (It would be a stretch to call most of them "waltzes," since some are clearly felt in six and others are either extremely loose or convoluted, rhythmically speaking -- the obvious exception being "Merrygoround," a circus-like early Yokota composition that's reprised here from Image: 1983-1998.) But it will have to suffice as a unifying concept, since apart from the presence of (mostly female) vocals on all but a couple of them, it's just about the only thing these 14 tracks have in common. This is almost certainly Yokota's most varied album to date, gesturing at a dozen or more styles (trip-hop, electro, tango, gamelan, Indian classical music, breakbeat IDM, folk, and beyond) while remaining essentially undefined and abstract. In that sense it both reflects and transcends most of what the hyperprolific Japanese producer has accomplished to date, recalling everything from his straight-ahead house and techno material (the three-on-the-floor thud of "Siva Dance") to his majestic ambient work (the voiceless closer "Holy Ground," a minimal meditation on Yokota's beloved bell sounds.) The album understandably fails to cohere as much of a whole, not so much because there are radical shifts in tone as that there's nothing in particular holding things together. Unfortunately, many of the individual pieces -- most of which consist of a few simple elements juxtaposed to create a texture that then remains largely unvaried -- also fall flat on their own terms, coming off as unfinished ideas. Even the unifying elements of triple-meter and centrally situated vocals start to feel like uncomfortable limitations, as the vocals rest uneasily on top of oddly mannered, stilted grooves that don't quite jell into songs, but are too active to work as mood music. There are worthwhile exceptions -- the tender, graceful "My Energy," the Eastern/Eastern-European-tinged "Robed Heart," featuring Moravian violinist Iva Bittová, the almost Mazzy Star-like "Your Shining Darkness" -- but on the whole Wonder Waltz is unable to translate its conceptual premises into satisfying musical results. An intriguing disappointment.

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