Nao Otsuka’s Penguin Kids is a blindingly-bright debut, populated with gentle drones, stone-washed harmonies and coalescing birdsong, resting in the shadows of the Japanese mountains. Shimmering pools of water are mixed in with cooler drones, and the music of the natural world filters in through a series of field recordings, sitting in a state of equilibrium beside Otsuka’s ambient drones.
The gentle ambulation takes in a near-silent creek, slow-walking towards a glinting lake where a set of bright chimes dance upon the water. Deeper vibrations pulsate within the singing bowl’s spheres of infinity, hinting at a meditation practice and at a more experimental pathway, but the notes are perpetually encased in good karma.
Penguin Kids is perfect listening for the summer months – it’s bright and dripping with sunshine, and the soft harmonies are reflected in a pair of aviator sunglasses. The experimental vibes aren’t dissonant or jarring – they melt into the overarching music, becoming one with it. Distant major chords are splayed out among the leaves, appearing as loose, Side B versions as original chords morph into a smooth, outgoing flow of trickling notes. The lines are blurred: when you slow down a chord far enough, the strum loses its shell and you get its arpeggio. There isn’t a single rough edge in sight, but there is an eye-opening spell of clarity on ‘Splash’ thanks to the clearer and sharper strings. However, even the strings are dazed, and the melodies that emerge lose themselves in vast oceans of delay.
The first section of ‘African Frog’ sees Otsuka in experimental mode, but it calms as it progresses. The music sways to the trickling rhythm of a tribal dance. The soft arpeggios of the guitar produce a cool glare against the afternoon sunlight. And the ten-minute ‘Tape And Insect’ is a soothing evening meditation. Sometimes the music is reminiscent of early Tim Hecker, in the pre-glitched days of Radio Amor or Harmony In Ultraviolet, when a radiant luminescence played upon the surface of the track, its emerald colours emitting a healthy glow. The experimentation is light, playful, and tropical. The Orb were right when they called on the world to chill out, and this is the resulting bliss.