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Susumu Yokota - The Boy and the Tree

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Artist: Susumu Yokota

Album: The Boy and the Tree

Label: Leaf

Review date: Feb. 5, 2003

Quality Control in Practice

Musical categorizations are tough.

Most recent musical commentary (my own included) has attempted to add more adjectives, further hyphenate and over-describe (see, preceding phrase) a genre or band. As much as I like to engage in this geeky exercise, I doubt it does justice to the music or musicians in question. Most music has some inherent, easily distinguishable characteristics that place it somewhere within a particular genre or movement, but this compartmentalization and lax categorization now verge on the ridiculous.

With Susumu Yokota’s The Boy and the Tree dribbling out of my speakers, I am having difficulty describing how the songs effect me. I thought that I would be able to come up with a succinct, genres-strung-together description of it, but realized that was a disservice. Although it’s easy to reference a particular sound to describe an artist, this action reduces the music’s inherent uniqueness. Except in the cases of true rip-off artists or hackneyed carbon copies, this pigeonholing has a detrimental outcome. Yokota has created such an interesting patchwork of sounds that he deserves some serious contemplation.

The Boy and the Tree pulses with a consistent timbre that lulled me into a state of relaxation. It was not a foam-mat, twisted-limbs, pilates-class kind of relaxation, but more of a well-rested glow. The panning, reverberating electric guitar lines and bird chirping forest sounds of the opening “The Colour of Pomegranates” struck me differently than expected. The album borrows heavily from various “nature” sounds, combining them with stringed instruments and percussion, and is always one step from delving into Nature channel stock footage or “Relaxing Sounds of Slumber.” A testament to Yokota is that, although these moods are suggested, he explores the details of their character as to not veer into focus group-tested hyperbole. Careful never to overplay his artistic hand, Yokota creates his own musical dialect, one that has been methodically filtered through various aesthetic inputs. This practice results in music that achieves its intended aims of tranquility and contemplation, but without all of the new age baggage that could accompany it.

“Thread Leads to Heaven” features a blended melody doubled, overlapped and (as per the title) threaded together. “Rose Necklace” adds an angelic vocal that speaks through an evaporating echo before descending into an incomprehensible synthesized spray. These water-based adjectives are intentional – Yokota’s continual shape-shifting evidence a real musical liquidity. Expertly manipulating sound sources and extracting their elemental qualities, Yokota creates compositions that are equally restrained and expressive.

Perhaps the single most impressive aspect about Yokota’s work is the passive manner in which it defies category. Exhibiting knowledge about the traps of recycled sound, Yokota practices careful control over his pieces. If all artists had such an acute perception of the music-making process, critic’s commentary and listener response would both benefit; until then, search out The Boy and the Tree for an intelligent approach to composition and a sustained delightful listening experience.

By Marc Gilman

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