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Hototogisu - Floating Japanese Oof! Gardens of the 21st Century [Important Records - 2010]

Hototogisu is a male/female duo known for creating psychedelic dronescapes with the guitar and other instruments. This double album original appeared on the DeStijl label  back in 2004-  it was originally spread out over 3 LPs in hand glued packaging, it now appears in an unlimited double CD form on Important Records. "Floating Japanese Oof! Gardens of the 21st Century", is upwards of 2 hours spent in a sleepy-eyed soup of sustain.  The runny pink and blue watercolor on the cover suits it perfectly.

Profoundly relaxing, one could say this sound is the distilled essence of warmth and compassion, even love: smoothed and rounded feedback, resonances that arc in fancifully meandering butterfly flights, fluttering sounds bubbled and rapidly phased, blurred together.  Pockets of accented high frequencies wash out the mix.  As when one's eyes are partly closed, shapes run into one another. 


I would perhaps guess this style finds its roots in the lengthy, reverb-laden chord progressions of post rock, yet all sense of progression or impending event has been removed completely.  It's all produced on acoustic instruments from the sound of it, but the band somehow refrains from playing a single riff-like lick on the whole improvised recording.  There is no beginning, no end, no trajectory!   When the lengthy, untitled tracks do end, they cut abruptly, and barely a second of silence passes before we are dropped into another very similar sonic environment.


These two musicians are revelling in pure sound, and all conscious thought ends somewhere amidst the warbling, whimsical semi-distorted guitar strums and the uneven, tranced out bowing of the viola.  Rustling gusts of chimes sparkle within the sonic carpet.  The players can be heard directing meditative moans and hums inward. 


Any chordal framework to this watery drone is vaporous at best.  To a surprising extent, repeated listenings reveal no structure or underlying cohesion to the music.  In a way this means the album stays new, and that its purity is unfettered, but also that there is scarcely anything to latch onto, even by the standards of ambient music.  This album will, for most listeners, be doomed to function solely as background music, though it's some of the greatest background music I know.


The first track of CD 2 essentially sounds like tracks from the first disk have been cut into big sloppy chunks and rearranged or deconstructed, and they're certainly worse for the disruption of flow.  The other tracks are hardly different enough from the pieces on CD 1 to justify an additional disk.  However, those drawn into a state of mesmerized bliss by the first disk shouldn't mind.


"Floating Japanese Oof! Gardens of the 21st Century" is an album of such singular sound and purpose that it is very hard to rate.  It's repetitive, structureless, clearly overlong, and focused listening is difficult, but the album is undeniably gorgeous in sound as well, and I doubt anyone could find themselves irritated that it was playing.  Potential listeners should judge for themselves if this sounds like their cup of tea.  I find it vibrantly human and emotional.

Rating: 4 out of 5Rating: 4 out of 5Rating: 4 out of 5Rating: 4 out of 5Rating: 4 out of 5

Josh Landry
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