Review Summary: Tujiko Noriko's mirror remains as foggy as ever
Tujiko Noriko’s early ‘00s albums are a treasure chest of experimental pop, and yet it took her until 2005 to irrefutably prove her credentials as an independently minded innovator. While not necessarily her best work, Blurred In My Mirror
was the most experimental release at its time of release, and indicated that the contemporary glitch-pop stylings that carried Noriko’s previous efforts had been a conduit, not a substitute for her developing talents. Shojo Toshi
(2001), Hard ni Sasete
(2002) and From Tokyo to Naiagara
were all clearly adventurous records, but they could all be pinpointed within landscape of indietronica without difficulty.
On the other hand, Blurred In My Mirror
sees Tujiko Noriko do away with a large portion of her trademark glitches and beats, focusing instead on expansive, sparser sounds. This approach suits her well; her past work had a loose relationship with structure to begin with, each track arranged somewhat haphazardly as a vehicle for whatever hazy interplay between melody and timbre she wished to explore. This is cogent with her background as an untrained musician with experimental leanings and obvious natural talent; Tujiko Noriko is as Tujiko Noriko does, her work brought to life by her great intuition for engaging textures and her deceptively prominent personality, hovering evasively between wry aloofness and emotional earnestness.
All in all, Ms. Noriko was clearly in a place where further abstraction could pose no obstacle to her, and Blurred In My Mirror
takes this in its stride. This is immediately apparent in the opener “Niagara Hospital”, which hovers so enigmatically in some undefined middle-distance between vocal melodies and spoken word, between English and Japanese, between ambient and IDM. Its stop-start rhythm, too repetitive to be a glitch, underpins the song yet never kicks into gear; its ethereally sustained chords aren’t ‘dissonant’ in the way you’d usually describe as such, yet none of them are ever resolved. The track is thoroughly liminal, in a way that it owns through and through: Tujiko Noriko’s portrayal of patience and uncertainty in a hospital bedroom renders her subject matter utterly mesmerising.
The same can be said for many of these tracks: ambiguity and intrigue are the order of the day. For instance, “Switch Of The Sun In You” is strained and minimal in a way that seems to test the limits of its own sparseness, Laughing Stock
-style. Rhythm and dynamics are both abstracted to the point of invisibility; neither is presented with any semblance of consistency, and so Benjamin Thompson’s greyscale guitar chords and Tujiko Noriko’s vocals glide over each other as though arranged by someone experiencing music for the first time. “Tablet For Memory” is the opposite; structured around a single moody guitar loop supported by a laid-back beat and slight psychedelic accentuation, this track is repetitive to the point of daring the listener to imagine it breaking out of its groove. Noriko’s vocals are at their most soothing here, a gentle counterforce to this cyclical friction that renders the track an unlikely feeling of timelessness.
There is some familiar territory: “Shayou (Setting Sun)” is perhaps the clearest nod to her earlier glitch-pop sound. However, while it’s charming to hear something that could have been on From Tokyo to Naiagara
on this album, the song feels a little inessential compared to the similarly sized “I’m Not Dreaming, King.” The album’s space and delicacy are met with a firmer sense of fission here; the track’s distant saxophone stops and starts in near self-obstruction, occasionally leaving the track in suspense, occasionally oversaturating it in full tones and ambiguous melodies. There is no clear leader here; Noriko’s vocals and the saxophone seem to be equally lost across parallel paths, occasionally intersecting but often disconnected - and yet the track is so impeccably timed in its bizarre anti-pacing that it’s hard to fault as such. Its restraint is almost uncomfortably tangible; even at the close, where two tracks of glitchy percussion panned to either channel bring things to an abrupt climax, the track’s most arresting qualities are the percussion’s warped timbre and twisted refusal to even hint at a graspable rhythm. Its volume and relative forcefulness feel strangely inconsequential in comparison.
What this is all getting at - or, rather, coming from - is that Blurred In My Mirror
is a largely successful reconfiguration of the fragility that supported the most memorable moments on Tujiko Noriko’s previous albums. Stepping further away from conventional songwriting or arrangement, she lands in territory even more confidently her own and uses this as a basis to add greater depth and nuance to an already sophisticated sound. This is an interesting contrast with Tujiko Noriko’s frequent point of contrast, Björk; the further Björk has stepped from musical convention and genre tropes, the more dubious her output has become. On this basis, Noriko convincingly holds her own as an avant-pop innovator. I would call Blurred In My Mirror
a total success were it not for the slight dissipation of atmosphere that occurs over the final, more scattily arranged pair of tracks. These two are harder to follow, evasive in a far less engaging sense that ends up demystifying a certain portion of the earlier tracks’ allure. Putting this aside, along with the somewhat narrow shape of its target audience, Blurred In My Mirror
is another bold step in one of the most interesting and engaging art pop discographies of the ’00s.