Akio Nagase - Roots Magic EP (Darker Than Wax, 2020)
Updated: Aug 24
Nagase rips up the Acid House rule book with this sublime release that simply confirms just how good he is at setting the most excellent of moods.
We go on a lot about tone and feel on Endless Grooves a lot, as for us is very important in how we can connect to what a track looks to convey emotionally and visually. Music has an immense power at putting images in our heads, providing vibes that put us somewhere emotionally, or immerse us in a textured soundscape that kind of combines the two, and this is where the tone begins to emerge as a key feature. Since the beginning of electronic music as we know it, musicians have constantly dabbled with the idea of what sounds from a synth or drums machine can do, what kind of feelings do they evoke, how will people react to this, or what kind of sound is it possible to make. From that point onwards we have enjoyed a whole plethora of records, genres and scenes that have dedicated themselves to a certain mood, a certain tonal plain of existence that in some cases knows no boundaries, speaks no language and is able to be transposed into so many differing contexts and environments. We simply get what the music is trying to say, and in turn our feelings flow from us and reside within the landscape that unravels out in front of our very eyes, our hearts and minds surrounded by flickering notes and simmering melodies that do so much to connect us to our new context. Its these kinds of tracks, ones which operate not just on a technically excellent level but also on a melodically deep layer, that endear themselves to the listener so much, perhaps due to the fact that the world seems so very large by design. The plains and levels that persist within tracks that really emphasise tone retain their ability to speak to listeners, and its the cavernous spaces that exists within these tracks that always accommodate experiences that people might have when listening to them. Its a tried and tested musical structure that throughout the times has always serve up the goods, allowing artists to really delve into the richness that resides within their sound, opening up new avenues of interest to listeners and expanding the boundaries of genres as a result. The spaces, the expanse, the broad view, all these things combine in the minds of producers and always birth something truly remarkable, with each individual or group crafting something different each time. The manner in which this kind of musical exploration speaks to us, its no wonder that some of the most beautiful electronic albums ever created have been those that target mood and tone as their most important drivers - shut your eyes and open your mind, so to speak. It invites you in, provides the biggest of hugs and points you into the mist, with the calming reassurance that how you feel by the end will be personal and reactionary, brilliant and calming. Its certainly a very powerful tool indeed, and one that remains something people hold very very close to their hearts.
When discussing how to really exert tone and mood into a track that perhaps never stops playing in an alternative universe, Akio Nagase has to be up there as a real master of this kind of atmospherical craftsmanship. His music swirls and swells around the most excellent of pulses, pulses which send ripples through from the depths and up to the very top, crafting a musical experience that in many ways feels unmatched in regards to its tonal exploration. During his initial years of releases in the early 2000s, Nagase was a prominent member of the Japanese underground scene, with his productions centered around the art of pairing Dub music with contemporary electronic expressions, a pairing that has always been a key fixture within electronic music but something that really came into its own during the 90s and beyond. The sonics that Nagase conjures up are always supremely impressive, utilising the richness found within Dub and multiplying the melodic undertones alongside injecting a variety of warm slowly evolving beats, creating a soundscape that immediately brings warmth and soft vitality. With each cut, Nagase looked to perfect his blend, as the music would present its core foundation of slow paced beats before opening up to us via the melodic elements that would expand and explore on top, with the tonal feel that reverberated off of it extremely smoothing and thought provoking, with a sly introduction of a left field feature never too far away. Nagase always felt true to his convictions, his tracks reading like a beautiful tome that had many things to say, many chapters to get through, with a flow of wordless narrative that conveyed itself to listeners in the most heartfelt way, with so much soul and passion leaping out of the music and into our hearts and minds. As mentioned previously, Nagase mostly operated during the early 2000s, and released some pretty phenomenal records during this time, including his superb debut, 'SynchroVibes / Plastic Dub', a split single with Gaxi & Zen that landed in 2000; the excellent 'Vreth / Make Dub' split single with Juzu, that arrived in the same year; the brilliance and variety found on his 'Make Dub' EP, that demonstrated Nagase's ability to spread his musical feel to other genres, with the record landing in 2004; the superb 'Imaginary Moon / Dance Hall Champ' split single with Kinka, with Nagase's cut off of this further exploring pairing dub with other genres, with the record arriving in 2006; the 'Groove / Rude Man' record from 2009, with powerful vocal from Hamatai making it a truly special release indeed; and finally, Nagase released one LP back in 2003, entitled 'Make Dub', that features some of his singles work alongside some new additions that all work together for a wonderful listening experience. In all, Nagase was at the forefront of dub excursions during his initial decade of producing, with the music he nurtured and put out there the stuff to really remember and marvel at, its pairing of dub aesthetics with 90s sonics a true delight, mesmerising in its quality along with never not daring to trying something bold. A vision was always present in his work, a willingness to really delve into the notions of exploring tone and how it can be spread across tracks to achieve maximum engagement and connection to listeners, with our minds firmly placed within the sea of gently undulating chords and percussive patterns. If you like music that always reaches out and touches you on these kinds of levels, then Nagase's initial work is definitely for you. We highly recommend you dim down the lights, put his records on, and check out for a couple of hours, its very much worth your time.
So now we arrive at his latest record, the 'Roots Magic EP', that comes at a time of a new creative burst for Nagase in regards to his musical contents and stylings, and lands via the Darker Than Wax imprint. This follows a revival of sorts in Nagase's production career, who after nearly a decade away from music making he arrives back with a new twist on his sound, and in regards to musical evolution its pretty damn eye opening. Still retaining many of the aesthetics and progressions that persisted in his initial run of records, Nagase is now exploring more so the realms of house and acid house, but throwing in his own twists that really elevates the music, offering something new and fresh to proceedings in a way that fits so well in this contemporary musical climate. This new run of releases kicked off with last years fantastic 'Like An Acid House' record, which we throughly recommend you check out, with the core ideals of this record setting up the foundations for the record we are exploring today. A record that contains so many brilliant ideas, so many excellence pairings of genres and styles, with each track contributing some unique in its own electic and brilliant way. So, without any more hesitation, lets get into it.
Up first comes 'Street Doctor', and the vibe is set immeidately on this one. The dubby melodic elements open up proceedings, with the stab like chords ringing fast and true on top as little features swirl and twinkle through space and time, the feel immediately like the cosmos but feeling grounded at the same time. The beat that emerges has a dancehall swing to it, the cymbals and hats blending it within the realms of house, as the percussion accommodates all the goodness that exudes on top, the two sequences working in perfect harmony with each other. The breakdown that occurs around the half way mark allows the track to give itself a breather, before moving right back into proceedings as the tune moves and grooves with such meaning and heart, its journey to getting you moving not quite over yet. The tune then plays itself out, our attentions firmly fixed on what might come next, the overflowing nature of how this track presents itself just too good to ignore. Up next comes the title track, and we arrive in a new tonal feel entirely, with the feeling of something new for Nagase opening up here. We are greeted by the melodic rhythms of the piano that is paired very well indeed with the swelling chordal lines, with this opening salvo then joined by the kicks and evolving drum line. The tune in full flow is quite something, the piano moving just left of the centre which allows the sax and additional keys to make their presence known, leading to a bed of beautiful harmonics and melodies to develop and make their own. The track does a fantastic job at pairing the groove and the keys, with both elements working alongside each other to craft individually different feels but coming together at key intersections to provide a very powerful experience indeed. The breakdown leads to a more loose musical expression begin to emerge, before the track then slides right back into its established groove, with the level of joy and excitement that flows from within a real pleasure to listen to and get within. What a stunner. Up next comes 'Acid Kid', and the mood takes a turn into more murky depths, as we sense the acid begin to kick in. The drumming style is immediately more choppy and expressive, the simmering hats paired with the razor sharp kicks and toms giving the track a real sense of movement, as the melodic features that persist on top creating a more solid texture that resides mostly in the backdrop. The acid line that permeates consistently within this sea of energy binds the two together, its energy one of constant, but after varying flows through differing musical structures its full power reveals itself, as we enter a full on acid excursion. The other melodic features drop away completely, the drumming really ups its ante as the acid goes from binding agent to bona fide star, its texture and tone amplified to the max, crafting a wonderful bridge which then flows back into a full on vocal and melodic mix. The vocals that have been present throughout become more of a chant, willing us to really go for it, the flows between varying structures in this track so wonderfully pulled off and very hard to deny. What a track!
Up next comes 'Acid Teng Shing Hang', and once more we descend into fully blown acid tinged goodness. The drumming pattern is just as rich as the previous cut, but retains more of a regular structure and groove, as the acid line moves forward as the most prominent melodic feature in the tracks progression. Nagase introduces vocal samples and little key lines that do much to move the track forward so beautifully, adding in further levels of intrigue for the listener to become infatuated with. But with this track, its all about that breakdown, my god, the breakdown. The key line that begins towards the end of the drumming structure then takes centre stage during the drumless break, as it weaves and winds its magic before leading us straight back into it, and its fucking glorious, its feel just so on point, its groove so hypnotic in quality. The track then moves through a series of wonderfully pulled off melodic lines that flow fluidly with such excellence, sending the listener into a trance that we are more than happy to be fully involved within, with the track playing itself out in the night sky. Excellent shit. To wrap up this wonderful record, we have 'Sunday Park Jazz', which takes the tone down to a more relaxed level. Here we see Nagase explore some of the fundimental feels of his sound, with the dubby keys kicking off the melodic sequences, with the drums matching them for energy and feel, with as much space as you could wish for in a EP ender. The hats and cymbals begin to fill up the vacuums, as the melodic features start to unravel in relation to complexity and mood, the overall picture one of constant evolution, executed so well via the many progressions that start to emerge. The addition of delicate keys and a underlying chuggy key line add so much to the density of sound, with Nagase finding time for one final breakdown to get the blood really pumping. The melodic nature of the track really takes off from here, the tender piano line paired excellently with the soaring sax line and backdrop synth pad, with the track building around these features with all the jazzy features you could really hope for. Its a beautiful way to end things, a track that gives over so much to you, melodically and percussive wise, and will leave an impression on you for sure. Truly a trimuph.
Nagase might have been out of the game for a while, but he has arrived back with such meaning and purpose in regards to his music. He carried over features from his previous records and injected them into a new vision, one where house and acid have developed as the dominant features, and oh boy does he pull it off in some style. The music here just has bags of character, an unbelievable amount of depth, and a musical feel that is paired beautifully, with the blend of elements coming across so naturally via a technically excellence series of progressions and layers. You really do move between the audial environments here, from chuggy dub led house jams through to rich layered jazzy tones, via proper acid house lead stompers, there's a well roundedness to the sound that rivals any record released this year. Nagase really knows what he wants to create, and that shows in just how ambitious and natural the music found on here comes across to us. His touch feels more deft and excellent than ever before, and we can only stand still in wonderment at his latest brilliant piece. A true gem, in every sense of the word.
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