Susumu Yokota

Wonder Waltz

(Lo; 2006)

By Mark Abraham | 28 July 2006

Shoulders bumping into one another, the opening samples jockey for space in a groove that never quite meshes but stays entrancing just the same. Not since the opening kafuffle of “Soft as Snow (But Warm Inside)” has an artist managed to blend dissonance with melody so seamlessly. “1000 Wing Beats Per Second” has glaciers, fire pits, and factories jostling for spots around the melodic sprawl of Caroline Ross—her vocals a thick plumb line that keep the jagged edges from injuring the listener.

It’s tough to say what Yokota’s ethic is. At times mushy and at times glistening, he blends acoustic forms into walls of electronics that are challenging but climbable if you can find the right footholds. Sometimes his music is as soft as the clunking of wind chimes, and at other times, like when Iva Bittova surges through the funkish electrodes of “Siva Dance,” it’s a thrilling call to the dance floor. “My Energy” slips through the cracks, giving Kahimi Karie a chance to haunt us with arched vocals, opening a space between “1000 Wing Beats” and “Siva Dance” that’s filled with chimes and cleverly placed samples, rewinding themselves into deep pockets of calm.

“Pegasus 150” crinkles clapping hooves, bass, and wild vocals into another club gem, although the horse noises might be a bit much. “Robed Heart” is the strongest track on the album, lilting a gorgeous violin riff over sparse percussion which allows the focus to stay on Ross’s delicious voice; a piano plunks notes randomly throughout so as to deflate any attempts at taking the track too seriously. Karie gets to play within the interlocking machinery of “Eternity is the Beginning of the End,” a voice simply another patch among many. Yokota’s clever use of panning and sequencing makes what could be a simple piece compelling; try to follow any one instrument through to the coda.

“L’etranger” stretches a KMFDM intro; as that allusion might suggest, it ain’t that exciting. Alex From Tokyo does his best to insert some personality into the piece, but ultimately it’s filler. “Rainbow Dust” follows with a more interesting idea, splashing more chimes and synths around a thick string line. It’s cute initially, but that intro isn’t quite compelling enough to make an entire track, and a few minutes in it’s pretty monotonous. The end of the album turns things around again, though. “Your Shining Darkness” spins filtered percussion, snares, and acoustic guitar, and the soft vocals keep things moving forward. “Holy Ground” is the most interesting instrumental idea here, Yokota pitting clanging resonance against bubbling synths lowered in the back.

On Wonder Waltz, Yokota is best when he trusts his vocalists to lead the charge and orchestrates around them. It’s hard to know what that says about him as a composer (versus a producer), but while there are several gems here, the album is complicated by his tendency to fine-tune beautiful pieces of music with jarring noises. He isn’t quite able to successfully navigate between those poles on everything here, but on certain tracks he shows the potential to redefine complex pop music.