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Wonder Waltz

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Album Review

As the title suggests, each of the selections on Wonder Waltz is in triple meter, which is fairly unusual for electronica, if nothing necessarily remarkable in itself. (It would be a stretch to call most of them "waltzes," since some are clearly felt in six and others are either extremely loose or convoluted, rhythmically speaking — the obvious exception being "Merrygoround," a circus-like early Yokota composition that's reprised here from Image: 1983-1998.) But it will have to suffice as a unifying concept, since apart from the presence of (mostly female) vocals on all but a couple of them, it's just about the only thing these 14 tracks have in common. This is almost certainly Yokota's most varied album to date, gesturing at a dozen or more styles (trip-hop, electro, tango, gamelan, Indian classical music, breakbeat IDM, folk, and beyond) while remaining essentially undefined and abstract. In that sense it both reflects and transcends most of what the hyperprolific Japanese producer has accomplished to date, recalling everything from his straight-ahead house and techno material (the three-on-the-floor thud of "Siva Dance") to his majestic ambient work (the voiceless closer "Holy Ground," a minimal meditation on Yokota's beloved bell sounds.) The album understandably fails to cohere as much of a whole, not so much because there are radical shifts in tone as that there's nothing in particular holding things together. Unfortunately, many of the individual pieces — most of which consist of a few simple elements juxtaposed to create a texture that then remains largely unvaried — also fall flat on their own terms, coming off as unfinished ideas. Even the unifying elements of triple-meter and centrally situated vocals start to feel like uncomfortable limitations, as the vocals rest uneasily on top of oddly mannered, stilted grooves that don't quite jell into songs, but are too active to work as mood music. There are worthwhile exceptions — the tender, graceful "My Energy," the Eastern/Eastern-European-tinged "Robed Heart," featuring Moravian violinist Iva Bittová, the almost Mazzy Star-like "Your Shining Darkness" — but on the whole Wonder Waltz is unable to translate its conceptual premises into satisfying musical results. An intriguing disappointment. ~ K. Ross Hoffman, Rovi

Customer Reviews

the future sound of classical-bewitched

this is yokota's finest since sakura. it's heady stuff, to be sure, often sounding like 2-3 different songs trying to dominate the other and then an element is added that brings it all together making you think these seemingly disparate sounds were already in tune from the off. traditional instruments and vocals mingle with judiciously-employed electronic swashes and subtle beats--the overall effect is easily quite staggering in its simple beauty. pretty enough for sunday afternoon with the girlfriend while still pushing forward enough to satisfy the headz. a truimph all around, then.

A Warm and Winning Transition

If the thought of prominent female vocals being added to the warm but pristine sound collages of Susumu Yokota makes you worriy, then give this album a listen. If you want to hear where Yokota's off to lately, this is the right place to begin.

These days, Yokota seems to be reliving his pre-techno youth (which I'm guessing was spent listening to Slowdive and the Cocteau Twins). It's a marked departure for the artist who made Baroque, The Boy and the Tree and Sakura, but it's one Yokota seems to believe in. Even the track and album titles of his classical-tinged ambient music are sounding more and more unashamedly emotional (see 2007's Love or Die).

But before you take on the 90s shoegazer reprise of Yokota's Mother and "A Flower White" EP, try Wonder Waltz and the collaboration with Rothko first. If you're a fan of Yokota's post-house ambient work, Wonder Waltz will hold the same sunny fascination (Yokota has been floating melodic lines in asymmetrical meters over straight fours since 1994, and the effect always soothes and hypnotizes the listener). Despite the description at the top of this page, Wonder Waltz's tracks aren't all in 3/4, and though that meter isn't as new to this artist as some people think, neither is his rhythmic concept different here.

The vocal layering is organic enough to make you think of Yokota's past and sparing use of vocalise (vocals without lyrics). Take the tracks with Ivo Bittova, a famous violinist as well as a singer: Yokota finds just the right placement for both her instruments, and the overall effect won't annoy or disappoint anyone who's attached to his instrumental albums.

Caroline Ross is just out of tune enough to bother me on two of the tracks, but those are the only instances on the album and most listeners I've spoken to don't even notice. (And for men who want equal representation, there's the track with Alex from Tokyo.)

As a classical musician, I still like Grinning Cat the best of all Yokota's work (as does Philip Glass, according to a recent interview). But there's a lot to like about Yokota's other work, too, and this album is no exception. I play Wonder Waltz often for guests, and most enjoy its calm complexity as much as I do. So, I suspect, will you.

Biography

Born: Japan

Genre: Electronic

Years Active: '80s, '90s, '00s, '10s

Susumu Yokota emerged in the early '90s as one of the most versatile and prolific electronic producers going. In his native Japan, he was known for many years as a top-tier dance music talent, specializing in all varieties of house while dabbling in techno, electro, and trance for the Sublime, Harthouse, and Planet Earth labels. Alternate aliases for his dance releases included Ringo, Prism, and Sonicstuff. While his dancefloor tracks were funky and playful with a heavy debt to epic disco -- he even...
Full Bio
Wonder Waltz, Susumu Yokota
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