Review Summary: S. A. D. - the album
Tokyo-based producer Keitaro Ujiie works under two names. The first, Ujico*, serves (exclusively, until the release of Snö
) as the vessel for his more ‘serious’ creative output (usually taking the form of lively electronica combining elements of East Asian music and classical), while the second, Snail’s House, is the accumulation of all his ‘cutesier’ works – where whimsical future bass, jaunty chiptune numbers and an abundance of ‘positive vibes’ is the order of the day. However, if we are to use the distinction of whether or not the album is ‘cute’ or ‘cheerful’ as the primary determiner of whether something is Ujico* or Snail’s House, then Snö
– under Snail’s House - provides us with an anomaly.
You see, Snö
is not an especially cute album. By inhabiting a space between glitch, downtempo and orchestral, it’s not exactly stylistically representative of anything released under the Snail’s House name (leaning firmly more towards the angles traditionally reserved for Ujico*). Frankly it’s not even all that happy; in fact, the overriding feeling one gets from Snö
is one of vulnerability. Bursts of distant white noise and crudely mechanical clacks
lie beneath the surface of the otherwise gorgeous ‘[Fluttering]’, serving to discretely but undeniably disrupt one of the album’s less morose moments. Near-opener ‘[Covered in White]’, Snö
’s least bittersweet track, is followed by the sorrow-filled, glassy bells of ‘[Snowdrift]’; these themselves build into a pulsating, cold dub, punctuated by the strings that turn so much of Snö
’s playtime into moments of emotional contrast.
Contrast is a common theme, perhaps at its most striking at the album’s close. The usage of ‘[Snowdrift]’’s main progression during outro track ‘See You Again’ certainly fosters senses of comfort and familiarity, but in its reprise the details are missing and the notes are uglier; after the beautiful, triumphant flourish that ends ‘Farewell’, ‘See You Again’ comes across as a disturbing epilogue, as if recalling an acutely painful moment that’s dulled with time. The duo of ‘[Waiting for You, Waiting for You.]’ and ‘Yuki no furu gai de…’ present an interesting comparison piece too. The arpeggio that backs the two tracks are the same simple, bittersweet series of six notes, but where the former track is subdued, grounded more in the nervous sensibilities of trip hop than anything, the latter is confident, comprised of flashy bass runs, guitar solos and a drum performance that imposes itself on
the listener. If winter’s good for one thing, it’s spikes and troughs in energy, and these two tracks illustrate that in spades.
Perhaps Ujiie opted to publish Snö
as Snail’s House to show a wider audience his musical merits outside of cute chiptunes and future bass. Perhaps it was designed to serve as a counterpoint to the brighter, sunnier L’été
released later in the year. Or perhaps, he just did it because it felt right, that it sounded good and I’m offering it too much credit. If that’s the case then so be it, because its execution is near-flawless; Snö
is so, so well-suited to the doldrums that winter brings, playing the dual role of the security blanket and the pathetic fallacy.