Ai Aso
The Faintest Hint


3.0
good

Review

by Johnny[Well] STAFF
July 13th, 2020 | 24 replies


Release Date: 07/07/2020 | Tracklist

Review Summary: A glimpse at a secret room: Boris-produced ambient folk-pop

Ai Aso's first studio album in over a decade ends with an uncomfortably good track. I mean this in a very literal sense. The Faintest Hint’s sparse, tangentially experimental take on minimalistic folk-pop is as delicate and occasionally beautiful as any music constructed from the space between individual pluckings as much as the notes in question, yet there's a ongoing sense that these songs are not so much open-heartedly shared between Aso and her listeners as they are discreetly observed from her performance. Her vocal style and instrumental delivery are intimate to the point of vulnerability, laying the album out like a secret scene witnessed through a crack in a bedroom door. This is the sense that the closer “0805” captures so adeptly, showcasing the absolute bare minimum of notes required for the song to follow its own chord progression, a beautifully reticent platform for by far the strongest vocal melodies on the album. It unexpectedly ends up as one of the most moving and generally evocative tracks of the year so far, recalling Ichiko Aoba at her most vulnerable.

Unlike Aoba, Aso comes across in a very deliberate, ungraceful way, keen to foreground the brittle components within her own style rather than weave them into anything approaching Aoba’s fairytale mystique. This is a considerable change since her last studio release, 2007’s Camomile Pool. That record was also markedly fragile, but in a much warmer way that invited its audience to share in its delicacy; on The Faintest Hint, Aso's minimalism borders on the more uncomfortable connotations of nudity, as though she's bared the essence of her craft in a form that feels inappropriate for casual consumption and almost embarrassing to overscrutinise in its simplicity. Perhaps not the basis for an enjoyable listen per se, but certainly enough to keep things compelling - at their best, at any rate.

It's a shame, then, that the album’s sparingness eventually gets the better of itself. While it is starts off with enigmatic intimacy, the majority of this record’s back half has less in common with Ichiko Aoba's enchantment than it does with the opaque tedium you'd associate with the likes of Reiko Kudo. Supported by a skeleton so purposefully meagre, the fragility of Aso’s atmosphere fails to sustain itself, eventually congealing into a clammy misgiving that feels far more superficial than is fair to its performance. This is not immediately apparent; things start out strongly, with two convincingly haunting meditations (“Itsumo”, “Gone”) and an ambient vocalise accompanied by Boris (“Scene”; Boris’ drummer Atsuo co-produced the record with Stephen O’Malley). However, things get lost somewhere around the stiflingly dull “The bright room” and settle into a groove of diminishing returns trapped in the traipse of indistinguishably uninteresting refrains; by the time “Sight” steps in to raise the tone with another bitesize Boris accompaniment, it’s too late.

The main cause of this is the paucity of variation in Aso's approach. Her ascetic focus is striking, but the tools and tones with which she explores it are confined throughout the album to an identically inflected set of selectively tuneful vocal melodies and unassumingly plucked chords-as-an-annex-to-reverb. Frustratingly enough, the one major departure from these techniques is also a solid indication that Aso is capable of altering her approach without fracturing her tone: “I’ll do it my way”’s tail end is punctuated by off-kilter flickers of distortion, staccato blips that challenge the listener to look away from the rest of the track's unrelenting sparseness, only to draw them further in. These interruptions compound the track's central reverie rather than disrupting it, as though Aso is smoothly pressing a tent peg into the ground with one hand while knocking a mallet against it with the other. It's a dreamlike blend of textures that brings to mind the contrasts of rhythm and dissonance explored by Tujiko Noriko circa Blurred in My Mirror, but Aso on the whole does not display anything close to a similar willingness to reinvent herself as she goes along.

It's perhaps a little harsh to frame Ai Aso in the company of artists as adventurous as Noriko and Aoba when she makes no attempt to present herself as such, but the boldness of The Faintest Hint’s minimalism seems to demand some kind of reciprocation from the album’s other qualities. For all the impressiveness of Aso's unyielding focus on the bare fundaments of her sound, any listener reluctant to squint at the minutiae as intently as she does will likely find themselves confronted by a perplexing amount of empty space. It’s all very well to be struck by uncomfortable intrigue once you realise you’re witnessing something vulnerable to the point of indecency, but, after a certain point, anyone still standing in front of that bedroom door would likely begin to question what they were doing there in the first place.




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user ratings (12)
2.9
good

Comments:Add a Comment 
JohnnyoftheWell
Staff Reviewer
July 13th 2020


28849 Comments

Album Rating: 3.0

maybe top 10 SOTY contender: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MjiIVuZ7qlo

the rest is maybe worthwhile if you dig it^ or consider yourself equipped with a working attention span and/or fondness for starchy ghost folk quietness idk, interesting album

Digging: Deftones - Saturday Night Wrist

SteakByrnes
July 13th 2020


20811 Comments


Nice review :] I will check out the song you linked and if I do not like it then your staff tag will be completely safe because I have no power here but mark my words oo boy

Digging: Vientre - Semillas

JohnnyoftheWell
Staff Reviewer
July 13th 2020


28849 Comments

Album Rating: 3.0

Oh boi thank you, but I hope you hate it and the earth shakes

SteakByrnes
July 13th 2020


20811 Comments


https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=I6X1O-3x0tk

Bedex
July 13th 2020


2177 Comments


Review summary sounds very appealing but the rating not so much

Digging: Future - EVOL

JohnnyoftheWell
Staff Reviewer
July 13th 2020


28849 Comments

Album Rating: 3.0

read rev / listen to that one song / do whatever / listen anyway bc it's probs a more valuable experience than several better albums i've heard this year / repeat lol

Bedex
July 13th 2020


2177 Comments


yea looking at the review I think the best plan for me would be to check Ichiko first :]

JohnnyoftheWell
Staff Reviewer
July 13th 2020


28849 Comments

Album Rating: 3.0

Oh yeah, defs do that - and check Blurred in My Mirror too, it's a better take on the general experience this presents

Bedex
July 13th 2020


2177 Comments


sounds great will do

Dewinged
Contributing Reviewer
July 14th 2020


21265 Comments

Album Rating: 3.0

Great review Johnny, I somehow knew she would get pit'd against Aoba lol



First track is very spice curry tokyo cafe small live set but the second one got me interested, not to mention Atsuo and Sunn 0))) bro at the helm.



Will report back.

Digging: Anna von Hausswolff - All Thoughts Fly

Dewinged
Contributing Reviewer
July 14th 2020


21265 Comments

Album Rating: 3.0

At track 4 and I just can't stop picturing Atsuo and Stephen dead asleep in the coach while this girl is recording this stuff by herself lol

Asdfp277
July 14th 2020


22989 Comments


mood

Dewinged
Contributing Reviewer
July 14th 2020


21265 Comments

Album Rating: 3.0

Yep, this is... meh, even for the mood it goes for. I've seen other unknown artists from my area doing this way better (without the help of Atsuos and Sunnbros).



I mean, aside from setting up the mic and hitting rec, I don't know what did the magic duo do (apart from track 2, which is thic) The rest is pretty stark.

JohnnyoftheWell
Staff Reviewer
July 14th 2020


28849 Comments

Album Rating: 3.0

"At track 4 and I just can't stop picturing Atsuo and Stephen dead asleep in the coach while this girl is recording this stuff by herself lol"

lmao mood [2] track 5 is where this flops for me, but I think we're in vague sync Dewi - you got any obscure recs in this vein (bonus points if not publicly available in any audible form)?

and yeah haha, the Aoba mention was 50% for reader-friendliness ngl; Reiko Kudo is too RYM and Tujiko Noriko is too frustratingly overlooked

Dewinged
Contributing Reviewer
July 14th 2020


21265 Comments

Album Rating: 3.0

Ichinomiya Yoriko - Tango no Uta comes to mind.



She was the first artist I saw live in Tokyo in a small cafe and it blew me away.



Check a song called Hikari. Not the quoted album version but the one in the acoustic EP she released before.

maidenman12
July 14th 2020


18 Comments

Album Rating: 2.0

I like mellow ambient music, but find this album just drags. Find myself checking how long got left and its always too long to go. Find the music far too repetitive and uninteresting

JohnnyoftheWell
Staff Reviewer
July 14th 2020


28849 Comments

Album Rating: 3.0

Sweet Dewi, will check - cheers

I don't think the tone here is particularly mellow tbh, there's something kinda strained that makes it feel weirdly cogent for this to drag like hell, and I wouldn't call that uninteresting - but it's most defo unfun and v much does drag like hell lol

FadedSun
July 14th 2020


2277 Comments


Not inclined to check at a 3 haha. I'm worried. Chamomile Pool is probably her best work anyway.

JohnnyoftheWell
Staff Reviewer
July 14th 2020


28849 Comments

Album Rating: 3.0

lol if it helps, Chamomile Pool is also a 3 for me

Meridiu5
July 15th 2020


3177 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5

chill stuff, very somber.



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