YUTA MATSUMURA - "RED RIBBON" LP
In the last decade or so Yuta Matsumura has had his hands on some of the absolute crème of Sydney's underground; Low Life, Oily Boys, M.O.B., Orion, and most recently Lulu's 2022 favourite Th Blisks. Red Ribbon is his first full-length solo LP.
Following a cassette of low fidelity industrial techno thumpers on Altered States in 2019 (as was the style at the time), this release at first feels like a massive departure from his previous solo work - though after listening to them side by side tendrils of continuity begin to appear. Both reflect a conscious decision to move away from guitar as the primary tool for songwriting - the 2019 cassette used drum machines and electronics (I assume), this LP was composed mostly on piano.
In terms of the continuum of his wider work, this year's Th Blisks LP seems like the most obvious reference point at first (although I believe this was actually recorded prior). We enter the album in that LP's familiar dubby, stretched pop zone (though with a vocal melody that feels as though it fell directly out of a lost Orion track into this new world).
On the flip however, the entire record opens up to us. Shaking off the dub and grit, the album's second side glistens. Calling to mind fragments of Another Green World, Virginia Astley arrangements, and our very own Alex Macfarlane, we enter a twisted chamber-pop zone that feels like entirely new, vital ground for Yuta.
We close on what might be my favourite moment on the record; Zookeeper's Trial, a chugging, slippery piano/synth/drum machine instrumental that feels like a lost Toshifumi Hinata track from a very slightly different world. Really, really beautiful stuff.
Low Company begins its final descent with Yuta Matsumura’s Red Ribbon, a sequence of introspective, lavishly melodic dream-songs and amphibian atmospheres recorded in scattered periods over 2018-21.
Having played in bands like Low Life, M.O.B. and Orion, and the duo Jay & Yuta (with Jay Cruikshank), Red Ribbon is Matsumura’s first solo outing, and represents a conscious effort to move away from guitar-based songwriting. He composed its nine tracks mostly on piano - layering vocals, bass, keyboards, flute (courtesy of Maeve Parker), violin/cello (Laurence Quinn) and clacking drumbox rhythms into dynamic, dubwise avant-pop structures which are supple and spacious but fizzing with detail and ultra-vivid inner life.
The laconic 4/4 pulse, heat-warped synth-tones and haunting vaporous melodica of opener ‘Box Garden’ set the tone, its psychedelic patternings barely concealing a deep sting of longing and regret. Cryptic lyrics suggest chance encounters, hidden logic, missed opportunities, fatalism, serendipity. A city submerged: everyone else paused mid-movement, while you’re allowed to swim free and fish-like through the streets, over the rooftops...
‘Tangled Orchid’ is a tense night-drive through dry desert heat and into the unknown, running away from your old life, chased down by dust-devils of half-baked schemes and abandoned plans, while ‘Myth Machine’ drops the tempo and something mind-altering, pulling you down into a tripped-out dub-disco scuba among alien flora and fauna, a world of impossible shapes and fluorescences.
At which point, the mood of the album decisively shifts, firstly with ‘Soko No Oto’, sung in Japanese by Haruka Sato: an instant-classic, breathtakingly intimate lover's lament that sounds like it got lost on its way to heaven and is now doomed to orbit the earth forever. The songs that follow continue in this more confessional, imploring mode. As if the travelling's done, the baggage has been cast off, and we’ve arrived at our destination, where the real process of rebirth and repair can begin. The music’s textures become less overtly dubby and electronic, with more of an organic, earthy, chamber-pop/avant-folk feel, at once sad and hopeful-sounding. Three songs in particular bear the influence of Eno’s 70s work (and its mutant bedsit offspring Lifetones, Flaming Tunes, etc): ‘‘E. Potential’, where baroquely chorused vocals - half-agonised, half-beatific - teeter on top of simple oscillating piano loops, and the stately, dawntreading ballads ‘Tabula Rasa’ and ‘No Sleep For Birds’.
The bulk of the album was made prior to lockdowns and all that: its themes of reset, self-examination, the need to f**k it all off and take spiritual stock, are timeless. Though they perhaps have a more bittersweet resonance now the world has returned pretty much to how it was, only worse.
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