Time Released Sound’s last Japanese release, Yoshito Murakami’s Mu To Ein, was wrapped in various tea ceremony ephemera. Their latest, 3+’s Kazesarai is differently packaged, but the music has all the precision, delicacy and brewing (sorry) import of those ceremonies.
The piano, the main acoustic instrument used on the album, is in its stateliest mode. On “Lunar Eclipse – Gessyoku – (Piano Version)”, the ivories climb up and down arpeggios at a steady pace with a firm, precise tone, full-bodied without being heavy. Even the higher counter-melodies, reminiscent of the kind of polite chamber music perfected by Mozart and his ilk, have that same firmness. Despite the focus its name gives to the piano, however, the piece starts with nearly a minute of low, ambient hum. It’s dark, coarse, even industrial sound is at odds with the piano’s stateliness. This disparity is present across the album. Indeed, the whole of Kazesarai, like “Lunar Eclipse”, starts not with the tinkle of keys, but with a broken recording of a child. Or there is “Myou Getsu”, whose piano is even more crisp and clear, and which is joined by a lofty violin, accompanying with lines of pristine beauty. But underneath that there are the sounds of waves, usually a calming, staid sound, but here they bring a touch of reality and unpredictability to the proceedings – the pleasance of the instruments is not allowed to exist in a vacuum, and Japan, an island nation with a long maritime history, knows the ambivalence of the sea better than most.
These touches give the album a sense of complexity, like the deep political and social implications that can lie behind something as apparently polite as serving tea. The duality is also what makes Kazesarai most intriguing to listen to. It’s neither just another pretty piano and strings album, nor just another flickering, humming, drone and field recording album – both of which there are plenty of already. Instead, it’s both, layered on top of each other. “15ya Sou”, nine minutes long and the closest thing to an epic on the album, takes a lot of cues from the lightly symphonic sounds of fellow countrymen like Takahiro Kido or Yasushi Yoshida. Sweet rolls of piano glide alongside tasteful breaths of violin. But the strings are faint, and obscured under a static that doesn’t quite allow them to soar. And in the bedrock of electronics, the sudden silences of reversed notes bring a tension to what is otherwise very, very nice. Around three minutes in the piano slows down and hammers a couple of high notes in quick succession, still beautiful, but suddenly aware of its own fragility. A similar thing happens in “Tentolori”, the crunch of a single pair of footsteps and an insistent electronic twang bringing a loneliness, an unsteadiness to the grace of the acoustic instruments, here in one of their most classical guises.
And this is what makes Kazesarai beguiling. It doesn’t aim for mere prettiness, although it is certainly pretty, or to charm the listener, although it is frequently charming. Across the album, 3+ qualifies those qualities, putting them next to more uncertain field recordings, or undermining them with the drones, and in so doing shows how easy it would be for the prettiness, stateliness and charm to break apart.