Genre: Psychedelic / Folk / Ambient
02 Aurora Curtains
06 Donna Donna
08 Before Noon
12 To Do First
Sometimes one has to be reminded that beauty, for all its tangible and immortal qualities in the shape of the finest art, sculpture, landscape, buildings and such, is essentially a thing of fragility and delicacy. Listening to this album by Tokyo’s Tenniscoats brought home to me just such a realisation; this selection of 12 tracks possess such a pristinely fragile, if quirky, beauty that you feel that if you gave them a metaphorical tap then they would all shatter into countless gently drifting snowflakes or cherry blossoms. The Japanese duo of Saya and Takashi Ueno (along with contributions from label boss Lawrence English) cook us up a feast of the most wondrous, scintillating, and piercingly bright aural concoctions, hovering in the spaces between what is and what can be.
One of the best aspects of this album is its capacity to surprise – one minute you’re beguiled by the short opening piano intro (executed by Mr. English, who also contributes to tracks eight and nine) and the track that follows on from that, the startlingly and shatteringly beautiful ‘Aurora Curtains’, sweeping prismatic chords taking flight across a freezingly pristine cloudless star-lit night-sky. Then, it appears to make a complete about face and ensconce itself firmly into entirely different territory, bringing in folk influences (both Japanese and Western) mixed with experimentalism, psychedelic atonality, freeform improvisation, ambience and Japanese cultural hints, plus anything else that comes to hand. Saya’s voice exudes a charm and innocence, hovering in an unsettling area between guilelessness and a much darker knowingness, often matching and emphasising the tenor of the music.
It is indeed a strange beast, ranging as it does over such a plethora of styles, surprising and startling by turns – the listener ultimately never quite knows where they’re going to land next. One minute you find yourself on the pristine Arctic, watching the dance of excited atoms across the sky (‘Aurora Curtains’); the next it gives way to the shifting sands of the desert, heat beating down on you unfiltered from the unmarked blue overhead (‘Cacoy’); or the barren windswept steppes, the biting wind underlining the vast loneliness and isolation (‘Rasen’); or maybe the untouched peaks of some mountain range, piercing the arc of heaven and your only companions are the occasional high-flying feathered traveller, splendid in the deep azure remoteness (‘To Do First’). Not only is it a strange beast, it’s also a damn slippery one too – I have struggled for hours just to pinpoint where these compositions are coming from, and in all honesty I found the exercise quite elusive.
This is not to say that I didn’t like this – I did like it, a lot in fact, mainly because of the very unnerving way this jumps about stylistically and also the way that it appears to be unwilling to submit to easy categorisation and pigeon-holing. That latter quality is a definite plus-point in my book, and I suspect that it’s the result of the musicians needing to keep surprising themselves as much as wanting to constantly surprise the listener. In its own quirky and bizarre way, this pushes genre boundaries as well as definitions, extending them way beyond expectations. Some friend of mine once said that the Japanese have a habit of taking things from elsewhere, copying them but in the process also not quite grasping or understanding the essentials, with the result that they inevitably produce something invariably skewed and somewhat unique – to my ears that is quite a fitting definition of this Tenniscoats album.