Sapphire Slows’ new album Time is out now via Kaleidoscope.
Who: Kinuko Hiramatsu
What: Ambient-Pop/Ambient-Techno/Midnight In The City
Where: Tokyo, Japan
Why: It took four years for Kinuko to follow up her breakout debut album Allegoria, an absolute lifetime in electronic music. Perhaps it was because Allegoria was the kind of success that an artist in Japan could spend a lifetime trying to craft, landing her praise both at home and abroad (securing the coveted Pitchfork review treatment). After it’s release she may have found herself floating in some void, searching for new purpose after creating such a perfect crystallization of the bedroom techno scene she once inhabited (A “tug-of-war” as she describes it in her interview with Japan Times).
Or, perhaps more likely, it’s because Sapphire Slows is a project that Kinuko takes very seriously, and approaches with an almost clinical perfectionism. Take for example her Boiler Room set, where she latches onto the board with a steely-eyed determination, completely escaping the scene around her. A perfect encapsulation of her ethos. With Time, her long awaited follow-up, the evolution seems considered and deliberate, a complete and unequivocal step forward.
That militant perfectionism, which defines every second of Time‘s brief 30 minute runtime, shines through from the albums opening seconds. The haunting minimalism of opener “Confession” patiently unfolding, Kinuko’s definitive statement on the importance of every moment. Riding a simple, slightly tropical, melody undercut with equally simple layers of lumbering sub-bass and bubbly drums for a full five minutes requires absolute perfection in it’s execution. Balancing it’s sparse elements in a way that avoids feeling monotonous, or like an empty sonic-mood without a meaningful framework.
For proof of that ever present pitfall, just listen to the many records which exist in Sapphire Slows’ space, the droning, amateurism of homespun electronic music the internet over. Sapphire makes no such sacrifice in making her music intimate and individualistic. Every piece of Sapphire Slows’ construction feels meticulous and organic, hugging her reverb-y vocals like a blanket. Flipping bubbly drums and bright melodic tones into an unsettling, alienated trance.
Even on the more free-form cuts like “My Garden”, where muted feedback and drone spin their way across the song, that purposeful air remains. The tangible sense that each piece was destined to fit just as it does. Her echo-ey vocals again perfectly hugged by this nightmarish instrumental. The sound of turning into a city alleyway quickly, looking up to find yourself in a dark dystopian corner of the city. Its not only a fascinating moment on it’s own merits, but an important detour for the album as a whole, which feels like a catalog of crossing Tokyo at night. Staring out the windows of trains, and walking through the crowds of distant faces and neon signs. A rich balance of modern alienation, and the emotional hunger it fosters.
(Author’s Note: “Into Silence” is an non-album cut from Time which was released as a bonus single for the deluxe edition only. It was included in this article as protest of this fact, as it is clearly an absolute monster of a track)