Ichiko Aoba has a new single and – shock horror – it’s gorgeous and utterly spellbinding. Listen to it.
For those unfamiliar with Aoba, the usual deal is that you sit down and press play, and then she appears like a magical headphone fairy for an hour (give or take twenty minutes) with her excellent guitar and her excellent guitar technique and pretty much nothing else aside from her voice, with which she sings songs so pure and intimate that you’d feel like you were the only person in the world who could her them even if they were being broadcast at deafening volumes on loudspeakers in the middle of Shibuya Crossing or wherever.
“Seabed Eden” differs both significantly and subtly from the Aoba precedent. On an immediate level and in the softest of revolutions, Aoba has swapped her guitar, once her inseparable confidant, for an electric piano. It’s obviously striking that she’s literally playing a different instrument, but the greatest change here is the melancholy minor 7th-fest of a chord progression that she follows throughout; in a similar way to how her January single “Amuletum” was immediately evocative of classic Studio Ghibli soundtracks, this progression is unusual for Aoba that it immediately screams of a real world precedent outside of her own quiet universe (in this case, the wistful melodic jazz of Erroll Garner’s “Misty” and the fifty zillion descendent numbers you’ve heard with or without realising it). Ichiko Aoba hasn’t lost her magic touch – this track is as stunningly beautiful as any of her finest! – but this music is no longer grounded entirely in a world of her own making.
This ties in conveniently to the subtle difference: Aoba has repurposed her trademark intimacy from a fairyland tête-à-tête to a more readily consumable affair several shades more likely to fit in with literally whatever you were doing with your life before hitting Play. There’s a lightness and palatability here that reads as a slight but meaningful shift from her previous work: throw any of her these tracks, even the most accessible cuts like “Kamisama no Takamari” or “Tsuki no Oka”, at an inopportune moment and you’ll feel like you’ve broken a vase (forget that Shibuya Crossing analogy; it was blasphemous). “Seabed Eden” is no less fragile or delicate, but it introduces soundtrack-viable Mood Music to her resumé with all the most inviting and generous connotations of the label and none of the mundane baggage.
It does well to remember that for all her perceived secrecy and mystique, Aoba is a successful musician outside of pockets of online fandom, so established within her scene that now is as ripe a time as any to open new doors to those who previously found her a little evasive; “Seabed Eden” is as unchallenging a stepping stone as any. Or maybe it was just the product of an unweighted whim wherein she felt making a piano track for the hell of it. True to form, both possibilities quickly dissipate into moot speculation when held against the track’s prevailing tone of purity, but I can feel a wind of change blowing softly through Aoba’s sails. Trust her to put us at the bottom of the ocean and somehow tease this with no less clarity.