In these posts, we will be dedicating it to albums that are among our absolute favourite albums. I believe what would be best is to take time to discuss albums that aren't considered "classics" already, as those get discussed endlessly on any other music site. I myself might start to eventually do genre specific series or genre introduction guides, but that's for another time. For now I bring you a review of Ryuichi Sakamoto's async.
Ryuichi Sakamoto is a legendary musician. Well known throughout the music world, he started up as a relatively well known solo musician and then got a gig in the band Yellow Magic Orchestra, teaming up with Haruomi Hosono and Yukihiro Takahashi. The band formed in Tokyo in 1978, playing a new style of music at the time, synthpop. While Kraftwerk was doing it in Germany, their Japan counterparts were just as highly influential. Not only using synthpop, their music had hints of city pop (which in itself is an amalgamation of genres) and arcade games. Yellow Magic Orchestra solidified their status in history, and the three members became prolific within the community.
Moving on after Yellow Magic Orchestra, Sakamoto moved towards scoring for movies and ambient music. Notable films he scored being The Sheltering Sky, Little Buddha, The Revenant, and Merry Christmas Mr. Lawrence which is known for its iconic theme.
Moving on in his life, Ryuichi Sakamoto was sadly diagnosed with throat cancer in 2014. Not knowing what would happen at this point, he took a year long hiatus before returning to score the Revenant. At this point in time, Sakamoto, felt better and healthier about his life. This where we begin, with the masterpiece of the album, async.
Async is an about death but not in a traditional manner. It's an ambient album first and foremost with experimental noise incorporating beautifully with synth breaks and classical somber piano pieces.
Async is a journey felt through Sakamoto, about what thoughts and emotions he felt throughout being diagnosed with cancer. Starting off with "andata", we get the feeling of the heartbreak of finding out death could be near. The whole album struggles with the concept of accepting death is real, and this theme reoccurs until the end. Suddenly the feeling shifts from sadness to almost chaos with the track "disintegration". Using experimental piano noises to set the tone for the entire track.
The track "solari" was apparently a theme for an imaginary Andrei Tarkovsky film, and as well as the entire album was made with that thought in mind. You get the feel of Tarkovsky's film Solaris for sure through "solari". "ZURE" & "walker" are two beautiful pieces of ambient that gets the listener thinking that this might be what hopelessness feels like. "stakra" is a synth driven piece showcasing classic Sakamoto in his synthpop days though never sacrificing the textures the album brings.
"fullmoon" is the first piece on this album that really made me think of the philosophical discussion about death. The piece takes exactly a quote from author Paul Bowles, and the quote speaks to the listener as if we take life for granted. After the quote, many other voices appear in very many different languages (which they are reciting the quote) behind a backed ambient strings. The album then transitions into complete chaos with the title track "async", almost representing the chaotic nature of cancer being so unpredictable. We then reach "tri" which is a song just dedicated to the triangle, replicating "async" structure.
The album then moves into another philosophical perspective, "Life, Life" with friend and longtime collaborator David Sylvian (of the band Japan). The track using a poem from Andrei Tarkovsky's dad, Arseny Tarkovsky. The poem has introspective lines and critical thought on how everything almost feels surreal, such as death approaching. Behind the poem is a deeply textured ambient track, evoking an atmosphere of great melancholy. Closing the track, Sakamoto plays us a beautiful piano melody.
The last three tracks represent a feeling of accepting death. "honj" being more apathetic to the whole feeling, while "ff" and "garden" give a more dreamlike feel to them with the constant drones from the synths. Drifting through the ambient soundscape, we come to our end and now we can heal through the acceptance of ones morality.
Ryuichi Sakamoto is by far one of my favourite musicians ever, and may be my biggest inspiration in creating music myself. In closing, I'd like to direct everyone to the async remodels album. The album features some of the most well known names in ambient/electronic music such as Oneohtrix Point Never, Fennesz, Yves Tumour, and alva noto. They all add their own twist to the already incredible songs, and if you know what any of these musicians sound like, you'll be able to guess what they bring. Be sure to check out Yellow Magic Orchestra and all the members solo work if you are still interested in more.