It is an accident of both history and his label that Hiroshi Watanabe’s Kaito alias has come to be one of the most recognizable and critically accepted ambassadors for trance and deep house, two styles of electronic music long derided for vapid sameness and limited critical worth. There’s still some debate on how a Berklee education and nights out at Twilo or Save the Robots got him in the door at Kompakt, but Watanabe’s breathy New Age-influenced house didn’t just win over Cologne – 2002’s Special Life was a critical hit for turning expectations of the Kompakt label on its head, and the following year’s beatless companion Special Love aimed to, and succeeded in winning over the ambient crowd. Watanabe ushered in a wave of reform that had electroheads exploring new avenues of progressive house and reevaluating trance just as the musical climate at large was coming to be more favorable for electronic artists in general. He was in the right place at the right time.
Hundred Million Light Years and its companion disc, Hundred Million Love Years, were less provocative. Watanabe was in a position to capitalize on the success of his first album by reimagining his own sound, but instead he took a conservative approach that didn’t do much with the sound of his keyboard-conquering epics three years earlier. By most accounts, Hundred Million Light Years was a refinement of previous material and nothing more. Though Kaito diehards loved it, armchair electro fans couldn’t see the value beyond the first handful of spins. “Everlasting” was great the first time. Why make “Natural Source”?
Yet, here we are at album No. 3, eight years after his 12” debut, and Watanabe steadfastly refuses to let misty-eyed synth washes and muted breakbeats go after all these years. To wit, this is not an album for the cynically minded or hard of heart. It is an album full of resonant trance chords and sunny melodies and warm, enveloping, Vangelis-esque synthesizers that will seek to lift you up out of the claustrophobic confines of your headphones and into a world of fresh air and naïve happiness. The music is inspiring in the way that seeing a sunrise or capturing lightning bugs is inspiring – that is to say, it seeks the simplicity of appreciating a moment in the complexity of cosmic debris or bioluminescence. It bounces like recent M83, or Ulrich Schnauss, or Gui Boratto. This sort of childlike charm and whimsy seems appropriate when you consider he got the Kaito moniker from his son (whom he has also put on the cover of all of his releases, this one included). “The Breath of Spring,” “Rainbow Circles,” “Nothing Could Be More Peaceful” – these are some of the song titles. The name of the album is Trust. Maybe we’re meant to believe in his reliability as the avatar of trance for a generation that’s still trying to make out what exactly “blog-house” was.
But before we go too far down that cul-de-sac, it’s important to remember that Trust is not the product of “our” environment. Rather, it’s a continuation of Watanabe’s decade-long nurturing of a singular sound that just so happens to agree with a cultural mindset of a new generation of fans eager for a better future, delighted to appreciate childlike charm and whimsy. With Trust, Watanabe has successfully bridged the gap between trance at the dawn of the decade and trance at the end of it. It’s not that this is “Too Good to Be True,” as Hiroshi suggests. It’s just about being in the right place at the right time.