Review Summary: Sit back and enjoy the view
You’ve gotta give credit to Quentin Tarantino for filling his soundtracks with some of the most obscure and out-of-left-field music around. Once in a while, he’ll bring out a popular tune like Nancy Sinatra’s cover of “Bang Bang” or Dusty Springfield’s “Son of a Preacher Man,” but more often than not, he shines a light on artists that would otherwise have gotten lost in the ether long ago. Or, in the case of Urge Overkill, giving a struggling band a hit song. However, the band I’d like to bring up today still remains largely unknown despite being featured on one of Tarantino’s most popular soundtracks, Kill Bill Vol. 1
. In fact, the song was used during perhaps the most pivotal scene in the entire movie: the moment The Bride (aka Beatrix Kiddo) meets legendary swordsmith Hattori Hanzo to request her very own blade to exact revenge on her enemies. The song itself, “Healing Wounds,” is an incredibly atmospheric ambient piece that matches the quiet and reverent tone of the scene beautifully. The haunting female vocals and keyboard backing are a perfect accompaniment to The Bride walking slowly and taking in wide assortment of katanas in her presence.
And yet, Kill Bill
is not the only film that Lily Chou-Chou have been attached to. In fact, I don’t believe I’ve ever seen a case like this before (except maybe Spinal Tap, although not comedic). Get this: Lily Chou-Chou didn’t even start out as a band, but rather a fictional character that was devised for a feature film called All About Lily Chou-Chou
- directed by Shunji Iwai - in which various high school students’ lives are affected and changed by the music of this titular singer. So, is Lily Chou-Chou a band or a fictional singer? Well, depending on the context… both. Basically, in the fictional universe of the film, the band takes on the form of this one singer, and in real life, they’re actually a legit band. Believe me, it was pretty damn confusing the first time I was trying to figure this whole thing out. But, with that said, what does this say about the group’s only studio album Breathe
operates as both a fitting soundtrack and an incredible standalone album. This record takes quite a while to really get going, but that’s because it lets the listener bask in its vast, expansive atmosphere. Having seen the film, I can say Breathe
was a wonderful collection of songs to accompany such a dramatic and artful flick. However, when separated from the movie, it’s still extremely impressive. The song from Kill Bill
, while being the most stripped-down song on offer, is still a great introduction to the band’s work because of its laid-back yet highly emotional approach; it’s a nice way to bring people to a record that’s so steeped in atmosphere and ambience. If I had to describe Breathe
as a whole, it’s basically dream pop with dashes of indie pop, ambient music, ethereal wave, and trip hop. In other words, you’re not going to find a huge display of energy or theatrics here. “Arabesque” is a perfect opener to express this, as it finds the group channeling a low-key version of what Bjork put out in the 90s (think “Unravel” or “Possibly Maybe”) and maintaining a steady, dreamlike pace. There are a few exceptions to this, however, such as the upbeat electronic rock of “Blimp,” or the guitar-centric alternative rock stylings of “Experiment of Love,” and these do a good job of expanding the band’s range a bit - particularly the singing.
Speaking of which, I think it’s time to finally bring her up. The real
singer who plays as the titular “fictional” vocalist is known as Salyu. She’s been around for quite a while, lending her work to solo albums, various charity singles, and even voice-acting for Professor Layton and the Diabolical Box
. In regards to Breathe
, she’s a great example of someone who can express so much through so little. That is to say, she’s not incredibly flashy or eccentric in any way, but her smooth delivery and unusual tone give off a presence that seems… intangible. Somehow these phrasings that seem monochromatic can still deliver a nice emotional punch to the gut, especially in the lovely piano ballad “Saturation,” in which her melancholy starts exuding an undercurrent of desperation and even genuine grief.
However, all of this is not to take away from the other band members; in fact, the actual composer of the album at large is keyboardist Takeshi Kobayashi. His presence is what anchors the entire thing, as his music was created with dense textures and tones in mind. Yukio Nagoshi’s guitar playing is nice, but those psychedelic and ethereal keyboards are what really color the music of Breathe
. This is especially true of songs like “Resonance” and “Glide,” which are driven by slow droning beats and plenty of spacious keyboard overlays that lend to that dreamlike feel that the album expresses so well. And of course, on the stripped-down numbers like “Healing Wounds,” Takeshi truly emerges as the star of the show.
Sadly, 17 years later, we still haven’t gotten another Lily Chou-Chou album or film. It’s a bit sad, as there are so many avenues that could be explored with such an atmospheric, open-ended sound like this. Salyu, despite releasing quite a few solo records over the years, seems to have largely escaped the public eye for the majority of the 2010s; as for the other members, they seem to be preoccupied with their film-related projects. Apparently they reformed in 2010, but not much has really transpired since then except for some live shows. Unfortunately, it seems like chances of another record being released are pretty slim; still, at least we got one incredible piece of music out of this story. Lily Chou-Chou may not be a household name in pop or rock music, but their one and only foray into music (and film, for that matter) is a masterpiece of atmospheric and ambient pop. All I’m saying is: if you’re gonna go down as a one-album wonder, this is the way to do it.