It can be difficult to keep pace with the output of an artist as prolific as Japan’s Susumu Yokota. He has sustained a remarkable work ethic, producing at least one album a year since 1998. Often unfairly classified as an ambient artist, Yokota also has interests in a wide range of electronic music, producing house and techno albums and working as a DJ. Perhaps due to the difficulty in navigating his back catalogue, he is often praised chiefly for the classic Sakura album from 2000, although there are many other highlights well worth investigating.
This latest work is a worthy addition to his catalogue. It is perhaps arguable that Yokota does not cover new ground here, but Kaleidoscope is certainly an impressive synthesis of his musical preoccupations. It is recognisable as the work of the same artist that made Sakura – it has similar dreamy and mysterious qualities. Yet it also captures the considerable development Yokota has made in the intervening 10 years. On Kaleidoscope, Yokota is considerably more engaged with melody and rhythm. He has also expanded his use of human voices to wondrous effect.
In addition to the familiar speech patterns Yokota has often used, he has more recently explored the sound of pop melodies and female voices. Some of these concerns reappear on Kaleidoscope, sometimes in grander form. The beautiful, pulsating Strain of My Heart sounds a little like the recent Wildbirds And Peacedrums voices project reimagined in an electronic setting. The delicate, quietly unnerving Your Twinkling Eyes uses brief sampled snippets of voices in a way not too dissimilar to Burial or Four Tet, although far more blissful and gentle than anything those artists would produce.
Everything on Kaleidoscope is meticulously orchestrated to achieve an effect. There’s the disorientating, clanging weirdness of Her Feminineness or 9 Petals, or the near pitchless, mechanical sound of processes on Photosynthesis. Elsewhere, Yokota achieves a mesmeric, shimmering effect on pieces such as Painted Room Key. Sprouting Symphony has some of the overwhelming, melodic euphoria of early Aphex Twin.
A number of the track titles and the overall sound of this album suggest that Yokota is investigating the relationship between humans and nature. Occasionally the use of indecipherable, half buried voices suggests that the natural world could perhaps subsume mankind rather than the other way around. Or perhaps it’s simply a way of exploring our symbiotic relationship with nature. Whatever the underlying concerns may be, Kaleidoscope is a fascinating, highly attuned work that once again demonstrates Yokota’s musical and creative awareness.