Ryuichi Sakamoto - 12

2023 CD release

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2023 release

A collection of ambient etudes for piano and synthesizer, the album is strikingly minimal in its arrangements. Tracks are titled and sequenced in the order in which they were committed to tape, lending the album a diaristic feel. (Only the final cut, an atmospheric, minute-long recording of tinkling bells, is presented out of order.) The pieces move softly through space and time, emphasizing the reverberant textures of the room in which they were recorded. “20210310” opens with a bristling synth tone that grows and expands slowly, alternating between high and low notes that brush up against the thresholds of human hearing in each direction. The piece rises and falls with a clear contrapuntal arc that never resolves into a melody. Others, like “20220202” and “20220214,” are similarly atmospheric, made up of raw, unvarnished sounds; they feel more like demos than the focused interventions of Sakamoto’s past solo records.

In addition to the weight of the room around him, you can also feel the presence of the composer himself. A steady pulse of strained breathing persists across many pieces, driving home the image of Sakamoto seated at the keyboard. “20211201” begins with the sound before introducing a piano melody draped in a foggy reverb reminiscent of Harold Budd, and the sibilant texture continues across much of the album. Against the backdrop of his carefully sculpted piano lines, the inclusion of Sakamoto’s breathing feels deliberate, quietly reminding listeners of his health. The smallest details take on heightened significance as he returns to themes and ideas from throughout his catalog. Pieces like “20220207” and “20220307” build on the mournful, elegiac tone of his film scores for The Fortress and The Revenant, while “20220302 (sarabande)” looks to Sakamoto’s heroes—Bach, Chopin, and Debussy—in its warmth and melodic simplicity.

The chronological, piecemeal nature of the album means that the audio quality and execution are often inconsistent from piece to piece. Couched in an impressionistic, sketch-like feel, the pieces rarely develop as they unfold, and even when Sakamoto pursues more than one theme or idea, as on “20220302,” he avoids any dramatic, risk-taking gestures. Much like his friend and Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence castmate David Bowie did with Blackstar, as well as Leonard Cohen with You Want It Darker, Sakamoto is staring down the prospect of his own death, meditating on the legacy that he will leave behind. But rather than mythologize his life in narrative songwriting or theatrical instrumental fireworks, he’s chosen a quiet grace, one more subtle and restrained than even his softest prior work. Rarely does an album this understated say so much.

Rob Arcand    - pitchfork

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SKU 196587898229
Barcode # 196587898229
Brand Milan Records

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