Review Summary: No need for a date: I was, I am, and I will be.Async
is the soundtrack to many things. It is the soundtrack to a Tarkovsky film that doesn’t exist, as well a record that will be ruled by the narrative of recovery, mortality and identity. His first solo record since 2009’s Out of Noise
finds Ryuichi Sakamoto three years removed from a life-threatening throat cancer diagnosis (now in remission) and with an increasingly contemplative view on his own mortality in light of the passing of his contemporary David Bowie and the fear that Async
could’ve been his final work. In his most vulnerable moments, Sakamoto sought solace in the little things, such as the mundanities of everyday life, the sounds of the city and of his own musical instruments – doing all of this as if he would die that very moment, and caught numerous vignettes throughout his latest album.
Following the ethos of his latter-day projects, Async
captures Sakamoto both at his most simplistic and off the wall, contrasting greatly in moments that fit perfectly into Async’s
blueprint – the solemn “Andata”, accompanied by long-time collaborator Christian Fennesz, builds upon a basic classical dirge before becoming immersed in ethereal digital effects and Fennesz’ trademark hazy guitar, which takes the lead from Sakamoto’s piano rather than merely accompanying it; pieces such as “Zure”, “Stakra”, “Fullmoon” and “Life, Life” all harken back, in a way, to earlier works that had roots in more electronic-based modern classical and the synthesized pieces that Sakamoto once created. These songs, however, extend beyond this influence and diverge into various routes. Whereas “Zure” implemented minimalistic repetition and a stark soundscape, “Life, Life” features David Sylvian reciting poet Arseny Tarkovsky amidst a subtly lush instrumental accompaniment that drives home the idea of Async
being an album that captures its creator being very aware of life’s finiteness in the verse:
“On each wave is a star, a person, a bird, Dreams, reality, death – on wave after wave”
And with pieces such as “Solari”, “Ubi” and “Garden”, Async
becomes further sobering than any other effort Sakamoto has put forth in his illustrious career so far. Async
doesn’t pussyfoot around the severity of what its creator experienced, nor does it try to act as if nothing had happened in the first place. At the risk of forcing a narrative of a recovering artist upon Sakamoto, Async
paints an aural portrait of Sakamoto facing the transience of life and what is left of his own lifetime no matter how long it may or may not be. It pictures a man grasping onto whatever is left of his life and cherishing
it, no matter how fragile it may now be, and for that, Async
allows the listener to think about their own life – about their own eventual passing onto whatever comes next; about the faint hold we all have on our destiny, a concept so far out of our control, and of how we lead our lives from day to day. Despite some minor flaws intruding in between moments of slightly distorted bliss and intentionally mundane segments of obscured experimentalism, Async
is the soundtrack to a life that isn’t without its struggles, but isn’t without the determination to make each second count.