If endurance is your brief, then Nagisa Ni te make for one of modern underground music’s strongest examples. Extant since the early 1990s, they’re an endlessly patient duo (Shinji Shibayama and partner/muse Masako Takeda) who’ve toiled away at their chosen art – folk-rock, sleepily played, moseying in a donkey’s trot – with little attention to the fashion of the time. For a group like Nagisa Ni te, broader cultural resonance is happenstance, and thus their appeal is that of snooping around a hermeticist’s keyhole. With songs that unstintingly address affairs du cœur (namely, that of Shibayama and Takeda), Nagisa Ni te’s music manages to both sound open and generous – due to the playing and singing – and somehow introverted, as though intimate listening is close to breach of privacy.
Yosuga’s not going to surprise any long-term fans. From the first few bars of “Premonition,” you can pretty much tell how the record’s going to play out, which is both blessing and curse. If you’re inclined to ask for more stylistic variation from your songwriters, Shibayama and Takeda aren’t going to yield to your wishes, and Yosuga’s sole negative is an occasional tendency toward the leaden or repetitive. This, of course, depends on your level of dedication, too: after about the fourth listen, Yosuga somehow flips its script, its obsessions with relationships, the natural world, day and night, and dreamwork threading together as a loosely-defined narrative arc. The songs consequently lock into place as parts of that ‘story,’ with their measured, steady pace (and some of the more rudimentary playing) gesturing toward the simplicity of Nagisa Ni te’s lyrical address.
If anything distinguishes Yosuga, it’s the further blossoming of Takeda as presence within the group. Two of her lead vocal turns make for the album’s most surprising and mysterious moments: the weightless drift of “Ishi River,” and “Close By Night”’s gentle chill, where Masayuki Yoshida’s Hammond organ slowly gives way to trebly, drilling cymbals that eventually white-out the canvas. There’s also a tribute (I’m guessing) to the duo’s dog Kumao, a beautiful acoustic piece with a melody that’s surprisingly reminiscent of Ronnie Lane’s “Flags and Banners.”
All of these songs point in different directions at once. There is an abstract, indistinct quality that reminds slightly of Arthur Russell’s dazed folkiness, or John Martyn’s mid-’70s liquid pastoral, which suggests, should they wish to, Nagisa Ni Te could take off to other planes of there.