Review Summary: With an album that blows World's End Girlfriend and all of his Japanese contemporaries out of the water, Kashiwa Daisuke produces the surprise album of the year
In the first few minutes of “Stella”, Kashiwa Daisuke uses the sounds of running water as a sample interlaced with his omnipresent piano and strings. He takes that sound, however, and breaks it up so that the running water no longer runs and instead limps. Music often flows like running water, and with this sample, Daisuke lays out his musical philosophy immediately, showing that he will take the most flowing, beautiful music and chop it up as he pleases. If Daisuke’s piano and strings represent a piece of glass, untouched and perfectly clear, then his samples and beats represent a huge sledgehammer with which he destroys the glass and laughs as the glass shatters and falls to the ground. His aim, so precise, causes the glass to fall into a perfect shape in its shattered form, much like Picasso’s cubist paintings or Dali’s melted clocks. Each piece of glass, its own unique shape, holds inside its own musical motif. Yet as the shapes of glass all fit together, so do the motifs. In this, Daisuke creates organized chaos of epic proportions, perhaps the most epic the electronic world has seen.
Program Music I
only has two songs, but the album spans nearly an hour. Song, however, understates these works. Rhapsody seems more fitting. Even symphony might suffice. The attention to detail Daisuke puts into his music allows a cohesion that no “song” of its length could achieve. Not only do the songs feel at their correct length and maintain interest throughout, but also the two songs play off each other with similar ideas. Still, Daisuke employs his sounds in very contrasting ways. The songs feel connected yet their own entities, one of the most remarkable achievements of the album. For the most part, Daisuke uses strings, piano, and acoustic guitar as his melodic instruments, creating a core sound much like his Japanese contemporary World’s End Girlfriend. In fact, even their concept of integrating glitchy electronic drums into the sound is very much the same. Daisuke just composes his music with more finesse, adding more depth to not only his drums but also his melodic content. From this core sound, Program Music I
burgeons into a work of art.
Of the two tracks, “Stella” is certainly the more conventional one despite its superior length. By stating musical themes, expanding on them, and maintaining a homophonic sound with melody and accompaniment, it stays relatively similar throughout. In “Stella”, the drums make the song’s climaxes with offbeat accents, retardations, and delays everywhere. Even when the drums stay conservative, it feels as if Daisuke is simply drawing back his sledgehammer for the big smash once again. Once the drums disappear, Daisuke moves into a completely different mood, especially mid-song. For a good five minutes, he builds an incredibly suspenseful crescendo. Through rubato minimalist piano and haunting ambient sounds, the song grows and recesses relentlessly. Once everything finally resolves, the off-kilter accents and sudden delays go away, and finally everything can breathe. After the final resolution, representing the song’s overall climax, it becomes apparent that the first 20 minutes of the song simply build to that climax of gorgeous string counterpoint, piano runs, and driving drums. What stuns most about “Stella” is not any specific moment, but the fact that Daisuke composed 36 minutes of self-aware music with obvious constant forward direction.
“Write Once, Run Melos” feels much more spastic. Once again, the first few minutes describe a musical philosophy, one of constantly changing feels. For the most part, Daisuke plays impeccable jazz piano and the drums accompany him, but the drummer may have run out of batteries. The drums constantly stop and get out of time. Only minutes later, however, a beautiful string chorale kicks in. In this song, Daisuke does not lay out such a large concept map for the listener to follow. Instead, he composes a song that feels more interesting minute by minute but less rewarding at its culmination. It relies on the shock value of each individual moment, and since he composes so well, it works. Even though the instrumentation is nearly exactly the same as “Stella”, the two contrast each other so much in their format. Daisuke makes use of off kilter accents, synthesizer effects, and ambient sound much more in the second song as well, so despite the similar instrumentation, he uses each instrument in a new way.
Program Music I
is one of the most intrinsically well-composed electronica albums I’ve ever heard. While difficult to navigate at first, only through multiple listens will the album begin to register and stick with the listener. Undoubtedly, it will stun on first listen, but every time, something new projects from the music. Daisuke might just take his sledgehammer and knock down the walls of the genre completely, watch out.