Koss - Ancient Rain (Mule Musiq, 2021)
One of Japan's most revered electronic musicians sees his seminal previously CD only 'Koss' album get the full vinyl reissue treatment from Mule Musiq, and the music found within is a masterclass in expertly conceived emotion fuelled electronica.
Some music makers have many strings to their bow, and more often than not it's the ones concerned with the sonics that have the most longevity. Electronic music has always had a fascination with sonics, with the instruments being utilised pretty much built for explorations into the deepest spaces of both realised environments and the unfathomable reaches of pure imagination, with the two threads combining constantly to provide experiences that often teetered on both sides. From the excursions of early Dub through to Krat Rock, EBM to Deep House, Techno to IDM, Electro and Jungle, every facet of electronica has had people operating within who have searched beyond the defined boundaries in order to cater for experiences that feel like they belong not of this world, their presence a paper thin veil that separates us from the world we live in with what we can't really make out just beyond. The way in which producers achieve this kind of ethereal quality is to nurture the expansive feels that dwell within them, a broadening of horizons that starts to explore scopes of unfathomable depths within a selected genre, where melodies and layers spread forth and combine effortlessly into a dreamlike sequence that caters for the most ambitious of mental wonderers. The way in which this is achieved is often down to the person behind it, who might like to explore slightly differently from the next person in terms of application and texture, which in turn provides a uniqueness to proceedings that remains very much their own view. Throughout the decades, we have seen countless producers pop up who embody these ideals of sonic enrichment, their vision one of ambition and delicate ponderings, rhythmically bound together by fluttering drumming patterns and daring yet heartfelt chordal arrangements, with the two progressions evolving around one another to provide an encapsulating feeling that does the business every single time. When this kind of wonderment occurs within one thread of a producer's narrative, it's a godsend, but when it happens time and time again over various journeys you start to sit back and marvel at the formulas, the ambitions and the intricacies of it all. Aliases are often used to take significant deviations in new directions, with producers looking to branch out and flex their creative muscles within new genres that perhaps touched upon their original slew of releases, and when this branching out does occur you often see the dots being connected between one line of inquiry and the next. To then be able to cross pollinate and bring together the collectivised sound under one roof is extraordinary indeed, with our eyes continuously flickering between one aspect to the next, eager and willing to understand all that flows from the finger tips of highly inspired minds. Even though we are jumping between differing palettes and styles, it's more often than not the sonics which remain consistent across the board, with artists looking to interlink what worked so well in one journey and keep the fire burning by applying melodic touches and atmospherical features that find new life within a different setting. These are the artists whom we always return to, our fondness for entrenching ourselves in the most mystifying of contexts too difficult to resist, as we embed ourselves deep within everything that they have to offer. It's the space between the imagined and the real, the plain of existences that finely balances itself on the edge of majesty and sheer bliss, with our minds in it completely every step of the way.
This is the kind of ideal that Japanese producer Kuniyuki Takahashi has been practising his entire career, and it has left us with a body of work that remains one of the contemporary age's most compelling and intriguing audial narratives. Takahashi has been active now since the late 80s, with various projects being released during that time that speak to the initial boom in electronica genres during the early 90s and works that speak to it's ongoing maturation, with his sound quickly evolving into one of succulence and high end refinement. His background as an sound designer has certainly aided in his approach to making environments that sing very beautifully indeed, and this is reflected in all the strains that persist within his works, which touch upon genres like House, Future Jazz, Ambient, Techno, Minimal, IDM and much more. No matter what path you meander down within his works, you will often be greeted by very similar overtones in regards to atmosphere and spatial awareness, where the worlds being built are fascinating and complex as to ensnare us deep within the landscapes, urban realms and emotional plains being painted. Within his records there's always a prevailing feeling that the jumps and bounds between tracks are going to be significant ones, with this trend occurring frequently as Takahashi keeps the mind moving with excellent variations between cuts that make for a highly balanced listening experience that feels like it is flowing from one space to the next with a breezy gaze. This approach makes his LPs in particular highly engaging, with their contents not just providing one singular feel but a plethora of styles, tropes and tones for us to sink our teeth into, and his EPs also retain this kind of quality as snapshots of his musical outlays. Across the board there is always a meticulous approach taken to the craft of audial application, be it the outline of chordal progressions, light elemental sounds or vocal features, it all operates as one symbiotic notion that interlinks the varying aspects of Takahashi's technical genius together. Looking back through his works, there's plenty for us to gush over, starting off with LP releases that came from under his own name (which tended to be Future Jazz and House leaning), starting off with the gorgeous delicacies found within the 'We Are Together' LP, that contains much of the intricacies found within the contemporary scene's most compelling releases, with this record being released in 2006; the mesmerisingly deep and percussively enriching 'All These Things', that arrived in 2007; the inters perspectival and captivating 'Walking In The Naked City', that landed in 2009; the sublime 'Feather World' record, which arrived in 2013; and finally, the gorgeous Techno leaning odyssey that is the 'Newwave Project', which was released in 2017. From the EPs, some of our favourites include the beautiful 'Precious Hall' record, that arrived in 2002; the fast paced excellent of the 'Think Of You/Melody Of Night' single, that arrived in 2006; the organic tones and lush frequencies found on the 'Flying Music' record, that arrived in 2008; the utterly infectious rhythms found within the 'Bamboo City' record, which landed in 2011; and finally, the swirling hypnotic feels found on 'The d N a Sessions (J.A.K.A.M Reconstructions)' record, joint released in 2020 alongside Marcus Henriksson. Be sure to check out both the Music From Memory compilations, 'Early Tape Works 1986 - 1993', that showcased some of his early works, and oh boy are they something special. A couple of other projects are worth highlighting here, including the incredible Double K record 'Esprit De La Jungle', a single sided 16 minute long odyssey that was released alongside Mr Raoul K; the amazing 'Middle Eye' record, that came out under a mixture of his aliases in 2019; and, of course, be sure to check out the project DRP, who released the superb EBM industrial leaning record 'Electro Brain 586' back in 1990, with Takahashi joined here by producer Tomoyuki Murashige. In all, Takahashi has weaved an incredible story together through passion and craftsmanship, leaving behind a discography that remained true to it's ideals and as a result carved out one of the past 20 years most significant narratives. His style is immersed in the ideals of the genres that he explores, yet it remains so much more than that, with his dedication to understanding just how far expansiveness and production value can go in creating uniqueness in sonics. The atmospheres created are simply astonishing, moving constantly from enriching rhythmic soundscapes through to more straight up textured environments, it's a blend that works so beautifully each and every time, and we cannot recommend enough his works to you.
One alias we haven't mentioned yet is the Koss name, with which Takahashi released the record that is the subject of today's review. This alias was set up around the same time that he began releasing house leaning stuff under his own name, but the Koss alias leaned much more heavily into the ambient techno side of things, with this approach providing a wonderful contrast to his main body of work. The music found within this body of work is ultra refined and deeply immersive, the music taking on a longer form in which to bind itself to us in a totality of emotional feverishness, an intoxicating blend of keys and light drumming patterns that work two fold to craft sonics of divine quality. Every record released under this name is worth listening to, with our favourites including the sublimity of the debut LP, 'Ring' that arrived in 2001; the exquisite minimalness of the 'Ra1030in' EP, which arrived in 2006; the gorgeous tones of the 'Earth' record, that landed in 2008; and finally, the soft tones of the 'Ocean Waves' record, that arrived in 2010. All the hallmarks of Takahashi's other works bear fruit within this alias, such as the fantastic sound design, atmosphere and unbelievable environmental building, with the only difference that it has been repacked to be geared towards a more techno and ambient leaning sound. Perhaps the best record to personify this alias is the 2008 'Ancient Rain' record, which has been recently pressed for first time on vinyl by Mule Musiq. Here we see Takahashi at the absolute peak of his powers, with the music found within deeply emotive and spiritual, in his own words evoking a 'new oriental sound' that translates traditional Asian music into contemporary compositions. Flourishes of dub techno and house find their way into proceedings to help keep the intrigue running high, but the melodies will be what draw you in and keep you there for the whole experience, with the placement and feel of keys and chords sublime to the touch and blissful to the touch. So, without further delay, lets dive right into this mini masterpiece....
Up first comes 'Dream', and this one begins within a suitably expansive plain of existence. The light drumming line uplifts the spaces above that are inhabited by a gorgeous series of softly pulsating tones, with distant key lines simmering and flickering through the haze, their sparkle not lost at all on us as it passes through many dimensions to arrive in our immediate line of sight. The lead key line continues to weave on top with all the joy in the world, as hats and cymbals start to grow into the experience through the middle, and before long the track takes it's first dip into a quieter place as the harp delicately weaves it's way around the pulse, the rest of the instrumentation retreats in order to give the solo some room as we are further transported deeper into this realm being constructed before us. The solo is deeply captivating, it's weight only added to as the background ensemble swells then retreats then swells again, with the final swell seeing the backdrop completely melt away to leave us along with the harp and the lightest of rhythmic patterns, with this bewildering world becoming only that little bit more beautiful as time passes by. The track then builds itself up from this point, adding further elements into the mix as we meander through it's many intriguing hallways, eager to find out more as tonal lines slip into the evening sky. What an opener. Up next comes 'Jumoku', and this one begins with the fuzz and the light drumming patterns to get us going. Distant chords start to emerge within the backdrop, heralding at the outlay which we are going to experience, and this begins with the key line dropping in and out of time with a filtered feel. The drums then grow in intensity with the swell of texture moving us deeper into the mix, as the track remains content in it's movement forwards through all manner of spectral phases and places, our minds firmly placed in the middle of proceedings. The contrast of both tonal application with subtle progressiveness is expertly pulled off here, as continual tones wash over us effortlessly with a purity that cannot be matched, melodic house played through a dub techno lens which operates on so many levels. It's the gentle breeze, the soothing breaking of waves, the rhythms of nature that exist all around us. Beautiful stuff. The title track arrives next, and this one begins with the light drumming patterns and distant chord to get us going. The ensemble is already very involving, with this feeling only growing as the textured sweeps and light melodic touches swing through the track from the bottom to the top, and it's here where the keys start to really show off their power, with hovering sequences adding enormous amounts of depth and feel to proceedings. The chordal progressions move into the realms of utter serenity, their touch so pleasant to the ears as we meander along life's great highways and groove through the membranes of human expression, the experience one of such meaning. The track moves through differing densities in order to get it's point across to us, with continued additions in the forms of bottom end features helping to contrast with what came before, with continued additions such as the piano doing much to move the music to new heights. A tour de force, this one.
Up next comes 'Memory Mapping', and this one starts off in very intriguing surroundings indeed. The technological pulses map their surroundings with a series of scans, providing a undercurrent for the chordal arrangement to sweep it's way across the top ends of the cut, with these sweeps becoming more apparent as time passes by. The approach as always is masterfully pulled off, with the time taken to understand just how the textures would work on the mind, and it's very effective at pulling the listener deeper into it's unfathomable depths. The track then takes a significant amount of time in exploring the outer reaches of the textures that persist underneath, with all manner of unraveling feels coming our way as time passes by. A gorgeous track, for sure. Up next comes 'N.O.W', and this one starts off with the distant melodic outline doing it's thing. A mixture of rising strings and delicate piano greet us during this phase, with the piano cutting deeply into the chordal arrangements as gentle flows pass us by, and out of the mists comes a wonderfully considered bleep sequence that adds further contrast into the mix. The scale of the track suddenly feels enormous, with the light rhythmic feel of the bleep line contrasting with the scaled grandeur of the chords makes for intense listening indeed, a feeling that only grows as time passes by as the strings keep going higher and higher. The melodies retreat for the most part to provide an extended dip into the drumming patterns, which serve and groove through all manner of tones and frequencies, with the feeling we get as we leave behind the composition one of utter wonderment. Truly special. Up next comes '1978 to 2008', and this one begins with the deepness of melody to get us going. The keys are full and vibrant, with the drumming pattern that emerges underneath not half bad either, as we get into full flow with the addition of new string laden lines. The resulting ensemble is captivating to the 8th degree, as chordal sweeps rush through the composition with a feverish intensity that keeps our hearts fully immersed in the comings and goings of the track. The drums kick out for a moment in order to provide some breathing space to the synths, and at this point we are left at the whims of the chords, with our mind fully engaged to all the little comings and goings that permeate through the experience. It's an audial masterclass that is worthy of any record, honestly this is perfection.
Up next comes 'Dream (Real World)', and this one starts off with the chordal manipulations to get us going. The light flute like line on top contrasts so very well with the undulations that occur underneath, with the lightest of drumming patterns starting to emerge over time as as we become embedded in the flow in it's totality, the soundtrack one of delicate serenity as we weave and dip our way through the composition. The mix of rising strings balanced out with indefinitely excellent chordal progressions is a joy to the ears, a consistent flow of wonderment that remains so intriguing to listen to and become a part of, as bright lights and colours quietly explode on both sides of the pan. The dips in density help to keep the momentum going on strong, aiding the elements in keeping a tight focus as the pulse of the track keeps a light burning very brightly indeed. Beauty personified. Speaking of, 'Beauty' arrives next, and this one begins with the distant flickers and hums to get us going. The background quickly becomes the mid foreground, with gorgeous simmering swells maintaining a steady flow throughout the spectrum, as vibrating percussive features keep a steady pace with the unraveling chordal intensity. The track introduces a number of swells that rise from deep within to rise to the top and back again with an elegance only reserved for the most entrenched of ambient music, and the controlled way in which this one allows for elements to surface then retreat is mind bogglingly good. To wrap things up, we have 'Odyssey', and there is perhaps no better sounding track name for this record to end on. The tonal outline is immediate, with distant synths growing in intensity and purpose as we sweep through the mists to arrive once again in an expansive world, where upward flickers and electronic mumourings reflect our own passiveness when taking in a world much greater than our own. Mountain tops and far away places become that little bit more prominent with each passing moment, with ever swelling synth lines adding further to the visions we currently have, moving our hearts and minds to some very special places indeed. It's a fitting end to a record filled to the brim with engrossing materials, a record of deep captivation that serves as a vehicle for our passive wonderings, our deepest imaginations, and our most far flung fantasies. A record for the ages, and one that still sounds incredible to this day.
Ambience was previously related to background noise, a passive medium of music that soundtracked the every day and reflected the solid flow of interactivity. It has grown to be so much more than that, as innovators have made worlds that not only reflect our own but reflect back to us, mirroring experiences with additional ones that work both as a tool to unlock doors in our own heads as much as they do to paint a picture to us of far away lands. On this record, Takahashi opens up countless doors to us, as seas of rhythmic notions and pulsating swelling synths keep the mind ever present within the mix, never for one moment do we dip away or loose focus but merely grow and feel emboldened as time passes by. The sonics on display are mesmerising to say the least, with his delicate hand meaning that the compositions flow with an impeccable feel, never loosing sight of their ultimate destination but always taking the time to showcase to us new paths and spaces. It's ambience at it's finest, a simmering plethora of emotion that speaks to us through whispers and breaths, a voice in our ear as we overlook the most captivating of scenes imaginable, a series of soundscapes that define environment and mood in equal measure. One of the reissues of the year, for sure.
Support the troops: