Review Summary: "Life steals out my breath"
This album is named after the forest known as the "Sea of Trees" at the base of Mt. Fuji in Japan. A landmark known worldwide for its demon-rich folklore, unnerving quiet, and an extremely popular place to commit suicide.
The Nocturnes' Aokigahara represents the forest quite well. The vocal harmonies laid down by Emma Ruth Rundle and Paris Patt give the music a haunting presence, right from the first words of the title track. The two voices work in a pleasing tandem, with Rundle going high and Patt keeping everything anchored in the lower register. However, both singers have their respective opportunities to shine on their own, notably "The Cradle" (Rundle) and "The Road" (Patt), and they shine well, Rundle capitalizing on the innocence of her voice, and Patt finding himself quite emotive as well. While the vocals do serve as the focal point for The Nocturnes' sound, the instrumentation creates a very poignant atmosphere. Everything has a very full tone, and when the guitars and bass are layered together, they often create a sense of floating, only being loosely held down by Dave Clifford, who takes a refreshing back-seat approach to percussion (unlike his work in Red Sparowes). These two sides to the band make the album very free-flowing, only rarely being broken up by solid melodies and rhythms (such as the folky guitar of "The Cradle" and "Hello Neighbor", or the driving percussion of "Craving"), almost like wandering through the dense, dark, and mysterious "Sea of Trees".
However, this is an album that pairs sonic darkness with uplifting melodies, giving a slight ray of hope to the depressive picture that Aokigahara creates. This adds a dimension that takes the music to another level, and differentiates The Nocturnes from a slew of simpler shoe-gaze driven bands.
While this album isn't exactly complex, everything is carefully placed and thought out, and produces a very heartfelt result. It is the emotion generated by this album that really sets it apart.