Various Artists - Teaism: Music Inspired By The Art And Culture Of T [Static Caravan - 2008]Those of you even only distantly familiar with Japanese culture will know about the tea ceremony, a work of ritual art that revolves around something so prosaic that most of us do it without even opening our eyes all the way. This compilation’s a love letter—fifteen different love letters, actually—to the very idea of tea, in all of its different incarnations: as a beverage, as a way to create a moment of downtime and reflection in the day, as a touchstone of one’s life, and so on.
The vast majority of the album tends towards the ambient and meditative, much as I imagine tea itself does. Sometimes the connection to the title is quite explicit. Max de Wardener’s “Kettle Song” is exactly what it says: it starts with the sound of the burner being lit and layers an almost Keiji Haino-esque strummed guitar over the sound of the kettle coming to a boil. In the same vein, Xela’s “Genmaicha Dorou” sounds like it was constructed at least partly out of the sounds of the implements used for a Japanese tea ceremony. And Cibelle with Josh Weller’s “Mr. & Mrs. Grey” summons a delightful musing-about-life-during-teatime atmosphere, complete with falsetto lyrics that are endearing instead of annoying. Tunng’s “Shove It” mixes a weird computer-generated voice description of the Boston Tea Party (!) with breathy male vocals and a mandolin-like main song.
Other songs are more roundabout—Lord Jim’s “Teapot Waltz” is indeed in 3/4 time, but doesn’t have any lyrics or other direct reference to the subject except in the title. And some don’t seem to fit at all but are great anyway: Qua’s “Lapsang Souchong (Iced Tea Mix)” sounds like something they’d have been playing on dancefloors in the Eighties, between Midnight Starr and Earth, Wind and Fire’s more electro-inspired moments.
I suppose one of the tests of any conceptual compilation is whether or not the music stands on its own even apart from the concept. Here, the answer is yes, since the one thing all these songs have in common apart from a common label is that they’re gorgeous and well worth the listen.Serdar Yegulalp