Review Summary: An incredibly refreshing sound, Metaphorical Music brilliantly fuses hip-hop with smooth jazz, creating truly original music that's good for the soul.
Working in a bookstore for almost a year, you begin to make quite strange comparisons between the novels you read and the music you love. I just recently finished reading Haruki Murakami’s ‘Wind-Up Bird Chronicle’. A fantastic book, it flows elegantly from page to page with a refreshing insight into contempary Japan, self-discovery, and relationships. His unique talent of fusing the mundane with the surreal creates a truly original, thought-provoking, and highly entertaining read. But what has this to do with Nujabes’ ‘Metaphorical Music’
besides both artists sharing the same nationality? Well, both have a magnificent ability to mix genres and tones into their respective works, concocting a cocktail of beautiful images/sounds. Both, exploding with creative genius, have a surreal element about their works, working brilliantly to their advantage. And with both, when you’re listening/reading, I can guarantee you’ll have a grin on your face at the thought of being in the presence of a major talent. I could go on, but I'll leave it to you to pick up both album and book and see for yourself.
Nujabes is a hip-hop producer who takes his producer name from his real name, Jun Seba, spelled backwards and combined. Clever ey? Nujabes’ sound is sort of difficult to describe, as you’d except from something brimming with originality. It’s very much a fusion of hip-hop and smooth jazz, focused heavily on piano-driven songs, set against a backdrop of tranquil horns, light scattered drums, and punchy, but soft bass. It’s as if the Japanese wizard has poured all these elements into a mixing bowl and produced the perfect spell to mesmerize and hypnotize anyone who dares listen.
The first song, 'Blessing It'
, is a perfect introduction to the wonderful world of Nujabes. As soon as the first notes reach the eardrums, the result is inevitable. Heads will immediately begin nodding to the smooth piano-driven beats, fused subtly with some soulful sax, and the listener is strapped comfortably in to an intense, yet relaxing ride. On this track, guest vocals appear from Substantial and Pasé Rock (Five Deez), and much like the rest of the guests on the album, they succeed brilliantly at complementing Nujabes' unique sound with their defiant lyrics and unassuming vocals.
The record continues with the first instrumental song on the album, 'Horn in the Middle'
. There are some faint voices in the background of this track, but it's mainly Nujabes expertly mixing samples from breezy, melodic piano tones, punchy bass, and lively horns. The drum beats are wonderful throughout, and the subtle twists and turns make for this to be one of the better songs on the album.
Picking up where 'Blessing It'
left off, this vocal driven track, 'Lady Brown'
, starring Cisse Starr, plays against some light, high pitched acoustic guitar (I'm not great with specialized instruments), lyrics focused somewhat cornily on a girl Cisse is obsessed with. A decent track, sure to attract newcomers to the artist. Next up is another pure Nujabes track, 'Kumomi'
. Unfortunately, this track can get a little too repetitive with repeated plays, but nonetheless, some excellently simple piano interplay, well placed samples, and a flowing bassline keep it in check. The song is never really boring, but it does feel slightly dragged out, despite it's intended calming effect.
In an kind of 1,2 formation, another vocal track follows, and it is personally one of my favorite tracks on the album. 'Highs 2 Lows'
features some effortlessly brilliant rapping from Cisse Starr, lyrics like white water rapids, cutting you to pieces, while still flowing naturally with a sort of beautiful aggression. This excellence plays perfectly in time with Nujabes' refreshing beats and gentle piano tones, although these can get repetitive as they rarely differ from their original formula.
The next two songs are created by Nujabes alone, the first being 'Beat Laments the World
', (although this does contain a sample from Substantial in 'Blessing It') and this is another good example of Nujabes' incredible talent. Samples repeatedly play, and occasionally the Japanese producer will twist the formula of the song, adding a few pianos into the mix. Despite being slightly repetitive, the song keeps its credit through its wonderfully relaxing beats. The next song, 'Letter From Yokosuka'
, is one of my favorite instrumentals. Very chill and laid-back, the song opens with some kind of horn, played in a way that would sooth any soul. Pianos once more come in, complementing the horn perfectly and the song plays it's course, sometimes adding new instruments and samples, acting like waves caressing a shore.
The lyrics in 'Think Different'
really show what this record is all about. Different, but humbly proud. And Nujabes should definitely be proud. Substantial delivers here, his soothing deep voice works wonders with the the strong bass, as he weaves his lyrical web around the floating samples. This song can get dull after repeated listens, but again, another great song, playing against Nujabes' trademark beats. 'A Day By Atmosphere Supreme'
is another song for the soul. Calming, the smooth piano plays elegantly against the drum beats and ethereal atmospherics. The creative talent really shines here, and the beats ensure your head does not stop nodding.
If you can tell me what the sound is at the beginning of 'Next View'
(Feat. Uyama Hiroto on Sax), you'll win a christmas ham or something, because it's been bugging me for ages. I know what it is, but I don't. Anyway, another great song, the drum beats are excellently placed throughout. The atmospherics and flutes in this song are superb, and really add to the track. Hiroto enters about half way through, his sax playing is brilliantly smooth, and makes for this song to be a real treat.
There are no real disappointments on the record but the next three tracks don't live up to the rest off the album I feel. The rapping is great, there are some insightful lyrics on show, and the production is very good, but there was a flair missing from 'Latitude'
that was so clear on other tracks. Latitude is the better of the two and it shows, a good song, but it just isn't up to the greatness of other tracks. 'Summer Gypsy'
is, in my opinion, the worst song on the album, as it can get very dull and repetitive. But with the other tracks it's up against, it becomes increasingly difficult to shine. It's not a terrible track, but pretty average against the rest of the album.
The album closes in style, with the two final tracks 'The Final View'
. After the mediocre stylings of 'Summer Gypsy'
, 'The Final View'
really shines and shows its strength with beautifully soft horns and jazzy piano tones. The breezy melodies carry the song through it's course, as Nujabes uses samples of voices and woodblocks to effectively keep it fresh. This penultimate song is great to chill to and 'Peaceland'
carries on this tradition right through to the last note. Sort of weird, half muted horns play wonderfully off the scattered drums, before more horns come in, easing you with every silky note. The odd instrument is introduced now and then, but in what must be the only track, there is not a single piano key played. The album finishes almost surreally, playing it through a CD, it has a sort of stop-start element, and you could be forgiven for thinking the disc was scratched, but it actually sounds great and almost flows. A strangely fitting way to end the album. Original, smooth, fantastic.
You may call me naïve for writing my first ever review with little knowledge of hip-hop or jazz, but I can’t recommend this album strongly enough. A talent like this does not deserve to go unnoticed, and as much as I hate to lose any of my back-pocket bands, this wonder producer needs to be reaching more ears. Only a couple slightly weak tracks bring the score down. Credit also goes to all the guest rappers on the album, excellent lyrics and vocals that sing in total harmony with Nujabes' production, I'll be checking out their music soon. Sitting through and experiencing 'Metaphorical Music'
, I have to say that this is one of the best debut albums I've ever heard.
To borrow a line from the Times’ review of Murakami’s brilliant ‘Wind-Up Bird Chronicle’...
“Mesmerizing, surreal, this really is the work of a true original.”
Final Rating : 4.7/5