Ichiko Aoba

(Copyright © 2021 Piero Scaruffi | Terms of Use )
Kamisori Otome (2010), 6/10
Origami (2011), 5/10
Utabiko (2012), 6.5/10
0 (2013), 7/10
Mahoroboshiya (2016), 6/10
QP (2018), 6.5/10
Ayukawa no shizuku (2019), 4/10
Adan no Kaze (2020), 5/10

Japanese singer-songwriter Ichiko Aoba was still a teenager when she debuted with the simple, subdued, folkish songs for voice and guitar of Kamisori Otome/ Razor Girl (2010), a 28-minute album: sweet lullabies like Fuwarin, delicate elegies like Michishirube, and fragile litanies like Tooi Akogare.

Origami (2011) is even shorter at 21 minutes, and it is vastly inferior. The notable exception is Sundial, a dramatic song where her guitar and her mezzosoprano are both very expressive, not complementing but enhancing each other.

Utabiko (2012) boasts more complex compositions like the seven-minute Imperial Smoke Town, in which the guitar alternates between sounding like harp and injecting a propulsive blues pace. For a catchy melody one has to wait until the refrain of Watashi no nusutto, but the highlight is the sixth song, 3-Biki no kuma, that unfolds with Renaissance elegance. Notable is also the elegiac guitar work of the instrumental Hadashi no Niwa, not far from John Fahey's transcendental impressionism.

The hour-long 0 (2013) signals the advent of a mature composer with lengthy songs that wander, ebb and flow, and even incorporate sounds of nature. The lively seven-minute opener Ikinokori Bokura/ Survival contrasts with the almost lethargic I am Pod (0%) that follows it, and with the six-minute Haru Natsu Aki Fuyu/ Spring Summer Fall Winter that closes the album in an almost funereal tone. The eight-minute Mars 2027 almost disappears at one point, when the music almost stops to let ocean waves in. It segues seamlessly into the twelve-minute Ichiguchi, with the waves still washing in and out, and the voice, more fragile than ever, almost gliding in the breeze. This time the music truly stops, letting us absorb the bird songs for a few minutes before resuming the same theme but in a childish tone. Another twelve-minute song, Kikai Shikake Osamu Uchu/ Mechanical Universe, is a driving Neapolitan-style singalong in which her mezzosprano truly shines, turning the song into a sophisticated psychological game.

Aoba also formed the duo Nuuamm with a musician called Mahito. They released Nuuamm (2014) and W/ave (2017).

Mahoroboshiya (2016) is the exact opposite: a collection of eleven brief whispered songs harkening back to her first album, starting with the ghostly invocation of The End via the suave elegies of Mahoroboshiya and Yume Shigure and with a peak of anemia in the slow and fragile howls of Umi Tengu. She tries to diversify her style with a two-minute piano sonata. The melodic standout is Kamisama no Takurami, one of her most memorable carillons, which stands out in a sea of serene beauty.

Having mastered her minimalist art, QP (2018) continues in the impressionistic vein of Mahoroboshiya. The wordless one-minute invocation of La Fontana di Valle Giulia all'Alba, at the same time peaceful and sad, is a good summary of the mood of the album, and so is the six-minute closer, Funeral Procession at the Seashore, which could be the last scene of a cinematic soundtrack. She exudes pure autumnal melancholy in Minashi go no ame/ Orphaned Rain, but more substantial are magical meditations halfway between the colloquial and the philosophical like Dareka no sekai/ No One's World and Anthony the Sheep. Most of the songs retain a stable structure, but The Rain from Light and Shadow undergoes a sudden change of pace, turning into a cabaret-tish motive, and then her voice becomes a dilated howl which seems to spread in space and time. It is the most disorienting expedient on an album which otherwise flows calmly and humbly. The charming melodies of Tsuki no oka/ Moon Hill and Fairy of the Shoreline are coupled with pastoral John Fahey-esque guitar, and represent perhaps the apex of her subtle art.

Ayukawa no Shizuku (2019) is an album of natural sounds.

Aoba converted to chamber folk on Adan no Kaze/ Windswept Agan (2020) and the change couldn't be more traumatic. Past the magic of Prologue (droning clarinets, ocean waves, transcendental chant), the best that the new style can offer is the neoclassical madrigal Pilgrimage and the brisk tingling medieval-sounding Dawn in the Adan. But in general the arsenal of piano, flute, violin, vibraphone and so on does not serve her well. In some cases the playing is utterly amateurish (the piano in Parfum d'Etoiles). A touching melody surfaces in Hagupit (but what a lame violin accompaniment). The songs that only have the guitar (as typical of her past albums) are vastly inferior to her past standards. Adan no Shima no Tanjyosai/ Birthday of the island of Adan More promising are the religious hymn Kirinaki Shima and the cosmic instrumental Chinuhaji but they last only one minute.

(Copyright © 2021 Piero Scaruffi | Terms of use )