There’s a voice on “Moss”, the new album by Ken Ikeda and Chihei Hatakeyama, that startled me the first time I heard it. It’s a woman’s voice, singing a plaintive melody in a language I don’t understand, in the background of the track ‘Zehi No Shidai’. It startled me because I thought I had heard it before, its open, declarative melody resounding on a 2010 album by Hatakeyama called “A Long Journey”. On closer listen it turned out that I was wrong — the melodies are sung by two different voices — but this experience of unexpected return, of distance and familiarity over space, time, and culture, is something that characterises my impressions of “Moss”, and not merely because of the glowing world map on the cover.
I suppose there are three main types of piece on this album. The first, exemplified by second track ‘Hamon’, is built around a chiming melodic pattern, quite Minimalist in form, with ambient electronic washes and other sounds in the background. On ‘Hamon’, the lively, smiling melody is surrounded by lots of small, discrete noises, like a variety of chirruping birds. The second sort of track mixes field recordings with more abstract, meandering composed sounds, such as can be heard on the afore-mentioned ‘Zehi No Shidai’. Here, various acoustic and electric guitar elements are arranged such that it’s difficult to tell what is guitar and what is from some other sound source, such as creaking wood, metal, or voices recorded ‘in the field’. The third kind of piece is like the first in that it is melody-driven, except here the melody is wandering and free-floating rather than limited to a short repeating riff (‘Na’, ‘Tsuyu To Kie’).
There’s another track on the album that doesn’t fit into any of the three categories already mentioned, and it comes right at the end. ‘Inei’ consists of dissonant, amorphous noise, sounding almost as if all the previous tracks had been mixed together into one disparate moment. In a way, it exemplifies the effects of the album as a whole, with different layers — perception, memory, emotion — mixing and mingling with one another in ways that are sometimes delightful, and often moving. The music created by Ikeda and Hatakeyama seems to exist in many different times and places at once, in keen awareness of all of them; they are personal, empirical, abstract, and familiar all at the same time. The results are very beautiful, and optimistic in the best, most honest sense of the word, because this beauty seems to reflect and to be that of life in general. “Moss” is an album to restore your faith in ambient music, and perhaps even in the world.