Review Summary: His weakest album, and still it's pure bliss.
It didn't take long after Jun Seba's sudden death early last year for the remaining affiliates of Hydeout Productions to announce that there was more Nujabes material in the vaults ready to be released. Great news, we all thought; but then we were made to wait almost two years for it....
The problem with the waiting is that it made you wonder why you were waiting, and soon as you did, all sorts of concerns came to mind. What if this was incomplete material? What if it simply wasn't very good? What if they were waiting for a host of guest rappers to turn up and rap over the tracks left behind? What if it was going to end up - gulp - a collaboration album packed with other people 'paying tribute' to Nujabes by pissing all over his legacy? Unfounded concerns, sure, but hip-hop lovers have been around long enough to know that the genre's moneymakers are very good, and very shameless, at milking the legacies of those who died young. Remember some classless fu
cknut releasing a 2Pac album called Ready 2 Die
? Remember throwing up in your mouth a little bit when you first heard about it? A lot of us do.
Happily, Spiritual State
allays all fears almost instantly. The guests are, Haruka Nakamura aside, all people that have worked with Nujabes before - Pase Rock, Substantial, and Uyama Hiroto all appeared on both Modal Soul
and Metaphorical Music
, and the first two also had their own albums produced by Nujabes - and the sound is still exactly what it always has been, blissed-out hip-hop with strong jazz influences and the occasional touch of world music.
The instant standouts are "Gone Are the Days", which ties a hip-house beat to a sample that sounds suspiciously like John Coltrane's "Naima", and "Far Fowls", which blends a sample of what sounds like a hocchiku with delicate acoustic guitar arpeggios, while the Pase Rock tracks, "City Light" and "Yes", are as solid as ever - I don't rate him that highly as an MC, but it's hard to deny that his laid-back style suits Nujabes' music perfectly. Yet for all the lovely touches throughout (the soft organ entering on "Prayer" is a particularly special one) it's disappointing to note that it's low on standouts compared to Modal Soul
in particular - nothing hits quite the same heights as "Thank You" and "World's End Rhapsody".
That makes it tough to react to; if Nujabes was still alive, we'd call this a placeholder album while we waited for his next big move. But of course, he's dead. There won't be any move. There won't be anything else at all. So where does that leave this album, still magnificent at points but undeniably weaker that the two before it?
Here's where - it leaves Nujabes alongside the likes of Ian Curtis, Robert Johnson, Nick Drake, Yonlu, Jimi Hendrix, and Jeff Buckley; all artists that left behind bodies of works that were depressingly small, but incredible in their crystalline decidation to one idea and one mood. Spiritual State
might not move forward the ideas from his first two albums at all, but in a lot of ways, it's better that it doesn't. Let's remember Nujabes the way we would have remembered him if this album hadn't been released, and treat this as a gentle, welcome augmentation to a legacy that probably didn't need it. This does add one crucial string to his bow, though; the acknowledgement that his C-grade material sounds like most people's A-grade best.