It’s an often held truism that the beat is the fulcrum and focal point of any electronic music. The beat is something that can be warped, messed around with, distorted in any which way, yet always remains the primordial heart of electronica throughout the ages.
For Japanese techno producer Hiroshi Watanabe aka Kaito’s latest album Less Time Until The End, the beat is meaningless. In fact, it’s completely non-existent. An accompaniment to last year’s propulsive and powerful Until The End Of Time, the producer’s first full length album on Kompakt for over three years, the work is something of an experimental sound collage. The beat tracks from the originals are completely stripped away, leaving the songs emotionally bare and haunted by the eerie presence of something not quite being right.
When listened to side by the side, the transformation of these songs from beat driven cerebral electronica to dreamy ambient soundscapes is fairly natural. There was a certain dreamy quality to tracks like Will To Live with its keening, arching synth lines and Star Of Snow’s gentle euphoria. Here, shorn of their drum tracks, an aching, affecting feeling seeps through. They are possessed with a striking clarity and lucidity, and the synths and samples are left floating blissfully in beatific weightless splendour. A tenderness and real humanity emerges from I’m Leaving Home’s soothing ambience. Elsewhere, harder edged tracks from the original like Run Through The Road In The Fog become an emotional tour de force as each individual composite sound and texture shines through in dazzling quality.
As the album progresses there are further deviations in sound from Kaito as he highlights his ability to adapt to any musical form. Behind My Life sounds like an evocative piece of gothic tinged ’80s dream pop reminiscent of prime period 4AD acts like Dead Can Dance and Cocteau Twins at their most blissed out. Yet despite sounding quite beautiful at times, there is also a tendency for the songs to float by in wispy, abstract inertia. There is little distinction between the ornate piano pieces of Inner Space and Until The End Of Time. These tracks certainly fit in in terms of tone and mood, but the album subsequently suffers from a lack of colour.
It’s clear that this reworking of his songs in an abstract beatless state is something of great importance to Kaito; a labour of love, of sorts. These songs are personal and deeply emotive, and the stripping back of the sound enhances that even more in its finest moments, such as the atmospheric slow burn exhalation of nine minute closer Star Of Snow. The overall effect is something akin to electronic folk music, a world away from the propulsion and vigour of the dance floor and the producer’s mastery of vibrant beats.
It’s easy to become entirely hypnotised by the music here, but it’s just as easy to completely drift off in a somnambulant slumber. This is the perfect example of mood music. There is, though, much to be impressed with as Kaito transforms his album into something quite different. The end result is a cut above diverting curiosity, even if it falls short of becoming a truly essential purchase. For any connoisseurs of Kaito’s work, or Kompakt’s output, then Less Time Until The End is a worthwhile addition to an impressive discography.