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Album Review

Etudes was originally released on the Japan Overseas label in 2003. Six years later it was reissued by the German Karaoke Kalk label, which had also released Toyama's first effort, Hello 88. Unlike much of his previous work, Etudes focuses mainly (though not exclusively) on acoustic and analog instruments rather than electronic beats and samples, and on unapologetically pleasant and harmonious compositions, many of which can only be called classical. In that mode, Toyama favors layers of repetitive lines that double back on each other in much the same style as Steve Reich's work, though without quite the same level of structural sophistication. The album opens with the lovely and contemplative "Tremolo," which is built on a combination of street-sound recordings, ocean sounds, and what sounds like a marimba. The result is sweetly relaxing. The cutely atonal calliope part in "Drawing" is augmented by other instruments and voices that may be live and may just be samples, "Troll" brings a hint of Latin jazz to the mix, and the CD-only bonus track "Ugly Girl" ends the album on a gorgeous note. Scattered among these lovely tracks, though, are a good number of real clunkers: the boringly atonal "Odd," the pointlessly meandering "Hectopascal," the relatively pleasant but unexceptional "Gauche." On the evidence of this album, Toyama is a serious talent, but he needs to tighten things up a bit.

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