In a video of the 2011 Great East Japan tsunami, as water scales the flood defences and ransacks Fukushima, someone calls out: “how do you describe this?” This seems an odd question to ask in a room full of cameras, but the event is something different for them than it is for us and this difference is rarely considered by those of us behind a screen. What we see and hear is worlds away from what they felt: the fear of death, the loss of their car as it floats by, a complete realisation of the next sentence: “everything here is over”. So the question remains: “how do you describe this?”
Dakota Suite’s position is you can’t, which is why this album – inspired by the pain caused by Fukushima’s tsunami – passes without a word. We do not possess language able to convey the horror. But even camera footage falls short of understanding; we feel disconnected, safe behind a screen. What Dakota Suite use instead is Vampillia, an up-to-10-piece of sludgy guitar drones, general gloom and, at their most dramatic, Japanese throat singing. This technique crops up towards the end of The Sea is Never Full’s first two tracks, and its tonal rather than melodic focus adds a primitive, guttural force which, in this context, echoes indescribable pain. It is the closest we get to sharing in the grief of a whole nation.
One might derive that The Sea is Never Full is a far cry from Dakota Suite’s more folky, slowcore past, and one will have derived correctly, so it helps to see them as more of a normalising force on Vampillia’s experimentalism than their normal selves individually. The pairing results in an eclectic yet unintimidating blur of modern classical improvisation, post-rock, Japanese folk influence and black metal. At times it imitates the inevitable movements of an unstoppable force, at others it sounds like a lullaby for sleeping waves, but always it faces toward the sea.
How different the sea must look after 2011! The most tragic part of this is that it will all happen again – the sea is never full: over 16,000 dead and more to come. On the surface it looks the same, but pain is not washed away as easy as a car, or park, or a school. The Sea is Never Full gives us a glimpse of this transformation by portraying the victims’ emotional perspective and letting our empathy go to work. We open ourselves and try to be there with them as much as we can. I expect this kind of loving sadness to come with piano, strings and (in my grittier moments) guitar, but to get it from all of these and throat singing too is something special.
How do you describe this? Well, you don’t, but show them your eyes and others might understand what you saw. Show your throat and they might feel your screams.