Review Summary: Tokyo Ghost Stories
On a soiled street corner, framed against a cracked grey canvas, a dark silhouette is splashed across a dull and unresponsive wall. Glowing embers fall from the darkness, burning momentarily before vanishing, like shooting stars fleeing across a drab and indifferent infinity. From the depths of space a hollow sound echoes through the trembling air; guttural coughs that tear apart the fragile silence of the dawn. With immense effort, the shadowy outline tears itself away from the wall, leaving behind indistinct stains that waver before melting away slowly under the gaze of the blinking sun. Suddenly, footsteps ring out. Its 6AM, and DJ Krush is heading home.
Hideaki Ishi, one of the major pioneers of the trip hop genre, is arguably the best known DJ to hail from Japan, and the only musician from the island to have been fully embraced by the global hip hop community. For the last twenty years, he has been one of the key figures in the country’s fast evolving electronic scene, earning much critical acclaim due to the high quality of his releases as well as his willingness to collaborate with myriad talented artists from around the world.
If any criticism can be levelled at him, it’s that his works can occasionally suffer from fragmentation due to haphazard structure; rapping would appear on one track and then be discarded in favour of instrumental interludes, before more vocals were suddenly strewn over the proceedings by a radically different emcee. For the most part, the songs themselves were great, but much too often this modus operandi lent some of his albums a chaotic air; they seemed more like a collection of splintered singles than definitive and homogenous artistic statements.
Therefore it comes as no small relief that Kakusei
, a few samples aside, is a consistent, cohesive and almost entirely instrumental affair. Besides giving it that all important sense of unison, the lack of vocals also allows the listener to focus exclusively on the beats; fortunately, it precisely here that Krush and his motley crew of guest musicians excel.
As one would expect, lo fi percussion features predominantly, reverberating continuously over the LP’s hour long running length, like echoing footsteps treading purposefully through shadow stained alleyways. Steam rises slowly above the grimy surroundings in the form of a solitary string of piano notes or a few trembling bass arpeggios; these are sounds that are sometimes somnolent, often melancholy and always quietly beautiful. It takes multiple listens to appreciate the extreme subtlety at work here; inconspicuous and at times seemingly insignificant flakes of sound fall like tears from the face of the sad and bleary eyed statue that rests on top of the slowly resonating beat pedestal. For the most part, the effect is absolutely stunning.
, a saxophone driven soundtrack to early morning wandering through deserted, despondent streets, sums up the album perfectly; this is the enigmatic language of a waking metropolis: the tremulous whisper of the early morning breeze carrying the throaty murmur of distant traffic through the cracks in the concrete of grey and dejected buildings.
can best be described as music for kicking tins cans around city streets; the musical equivalent of an act that’s a little bit capricious, a little bit antisocial, yet at the same time overflowing with irresistible waves of dark thought and reflection. Arguably Krush’s finest moment, and undoubtedly his greatest artistic statement; Kakusei
is essential listening, even outside of the grimy confines of trip hop.