Conclusion – Takénobu. Nick Ogawa’s latest outing as Takénobu is a relaxing, peaceful experience. The layers of looped cello and delicate vocal performances from Ogawa mesh together perfectly into a hushed-but-powerful collection of tunes. That Ogawa can make a whole album out of (primarily) a single instrument and voices that doesn’t feel repetitive or aimless is a testament to Ogawa’s compositional prowess. The tunes here move through many different moods and styles; staccato pizzicato, legato bowing, and staccato bowing all intersect and meld throughout the record.
The performances of the compositions are equally stunning: in turns moving (“Conclusive”), energetic (“Fight to Make It Up”), charming (“Glorious Harmonious”) and impressive (“Dark in the City”), Ogawa and collaborators pour their emotions into the individual takes that compose the recorded product. Conclusion is a warm, comforting, compelling release, driven by the deep compositional expertise of Ogawa. It’s the rare time when Neo-classical composition, experimental ideas, and indie-pop music come together into something that fans of all three types of music can appreciate. Conclusion releases May 24.
Spiritual 2 – Tengger. Tengger describes their work as “new age drone magic.” I can definitely get behind the “drone magic” part of the description. Spiritual 2 is indeed at its heart a collection of drones, but there’s an almost kraut-rock-ian sense of motorik drive and synth sweep that make this a very magical set of drones. This isn’t a set of glacially-paced tones, nor is it a “big clouds of synths” ambient release. Instead, there are arpeggiators, vocal melody fragments, big swoops of synths, and even percussion (of a sort) creating the soundscapes. These are drones, and perhaps even good to meditate to. But you can also drive to tunes like “High,” “Middle” and the 16-minute conclusion (and highlight track) “Wasserwellen.”
Those who like their drones pure, slow, and minimalist need not apply: if such a thing is possible, this is maximalist drone. Coincidentally, those who are not convinced that drone is for them should find Tengger’s work an appealing place to start; there are melodies, moods, and bits to hang your hat on throughout the record. A novel, intriguing record. Highly recommended. Spiritual 2 comes out June 7 on Beyond Beyond is Beyond.
In This Pilgrim Way – Wilder Adkins. Adkins has a phone-book voice: I love the sound of his heartfelt, evocative tenor so much that he could sing the phone book and I would listen. In his last release (my 2016 album of the year), he used his gorgeous voice on deeply personal thoughts of religion and romance. On his latest, he turns his attention to the Baptist Hymnal. Some of you, religious or no, may be headed for the hills at this point, but bear with Adkins; even if JPH’s hell verses is more your acoustic cup of tea, the sheer loveliness of Adkins’ voice is enough to transform some of these (very) well-worn standards into new experiences.
The arrangements help. Instead of diving into blocky piano chords, Adkins translates the hymns into his folky, dreamy oeuvre. The resulting tunes are loose, open, spacious, flowing, organic arrangements that nod to the source material (few of the melodies have been altered) but also fit this into a contemporary intimate folk space.
However, Adkins’ bona fides are not in question here. He doesn’t shirk the hardest songs, the Baptist staples that any collection of Baptist hymns is going to include: “Just As I Am,” “In the Garden,” “Leaning on the Everlasting Arms,” and “Softly and Tenderly” are all here. (The only one missing here is “I Have Decided to Follow Jesus,” basically.) There are some deeper cuts, a setting of the Lord’s Prayer, and an instrumental, but the core of this record is Wilder Sings the Baptist Hits. It proves his immense vocal and arranging talent that a record of that is such a lovely and endearing listen. In This Pilgrim Way releases July 26.