Electronic composer Susumu Yokota has always been something of an enigma. During the late nineties and the first few years of this century he had a dual career as a producer of down-to-earth, functional, dancefloor oriented techno, and also of neo-classical, experimental, ambient works. Curiously it was the more left field material that garnered the most attention, and albums such as Sakura and Grinning Cat were heaped with praise from such unlikely quarters as Mojo magazine, not the first place you’d think to look to find out about modern composition. Many followers were perplexed by Symbol, his 2005 album which was constructed around many well-loved classical pieces by composers such as Claude Debussy and Camille Saint-Saëns. It may have been a richly romantic work, but it was a long way from the cod-classical, muzak interpretations of William Orbit’s dismal Pieces In A Modern Style.
The follow-up Wonder Waltz, though, really didn’t work. The introduction of vocals by Caroline Ross, Iva Bittova and Kahimi Karie, although inoffensive in themselves, only sugared further an already sweet mixture to leave a concoction that felt bland. The set’s other innovation of utilizing waltz time for all the pieces was largely overlooked. Thankfully, the vocals have been discarded on Love Or Die, but the waltz-time experiment has been repeated.
My first reaction to the album was, frankly, pretty hostile. There are lots of pretty piano arpeggios, muted beats, and a warm, romantic sound that seems at first more in keeping with 70s pseudo-classical acts like Vangelis, Jean-Michel Jarre and Tomita than with cutting-edge, modern electronica. The more I’ve listened, though, the more sense it’s made. Sure, there is no lack of melody and very little sign of any atonal or dissonant elements, but there is much more to Love Or Die than just a bunch of pretty tunes. A lot of the beats seem to be aimed at the dancefloor, until you pause to wonder how any DJ would program a piece in 3 / 4 time into their set. Most tracks are piano led, but not all: “The Scream Of A Sage Who Lost Freedom And Love Taken For Granted Before” (all the tunes have these fortune cookie type titles) is led by shimmering guitar chords that evoke early Durutti Column and ends in a triple time drum & bass coda – far out. “A Song Produced While Floating Alone On Christmas Day” is led by those fuzzy analogue synths so beloved by Boards Of Canada.
The whole album has a warm, wistful quality, but is packed full of ideas and little quirks. After living with it for a few days, I can’t begin to imagine how I wasn’t bowled over from the outset.
01 For The Other Self Who Is Far Away That I Can Not Reach (4:26)
02 A Slowly Fainting Memory Of Love And Respect, And Hatred (5:30)
03 The Loneliness Of Anarchic Beauty Achieved By My Ego (3:45)
04 A Heart-Warming And Beautiful Flower Will Eventually Wither Away And Become Dirt (4:43)
05 The Sin Of Almighty God, Respected And Believed By The Masses (4:42)
06 That Persons Hearsay Protects My Free Spirit (4:55)
07 The Things That I Need To Do For Just One’s Love (5:06)
08 The Scream Of A Sage Who Lost Freedom And Love Taken For Granted Before (5:02)
09 A Song Produced While Floating Alone On Christmas Day (5:14)
10 The Now Forgotten Gods Of Rocky Mountain Residing In The Back Of The North Wood (4:02)
11 The Sacred Ceremony Conceived By Chance From An Evil Lie (5:01)
12 The Destiny For The Little Bird Trapped Inside A Small Cage For Life (4:39)