Murohashi Takuya is from Japan. His first release was last year’s From Here To Somewhere EP, which showed a precocious welding of various â€śchill-outâ€ť styles: a jazzy flavor of modern classical piano and strings, downtempo beats, ambient calmness, and even techno’s measured repetition, all wrapped up in Right To Children-era Boards of Canada’s subtly melodic catchiness. True, one could make a joke about lining up his next gig recording background music for The Weather Channel, especially given the occasional twangs of acoustic guitar that crop up on the title track and EP closer â€śAfter Dark.â€ť Then again, that station has also been known to use music by such respected acts as Depeche Mode and Aphex Twin, so I question the notion that music that seems too â€śeasyâ€ť or â€śglassyâ€ť or whatever is by default less significant or meaningful or â€śauthentic.â€ť And hasn’t the most lingering lesson of 80s revivalism been that cheesy doesn’t have to mean bad? Not that Takuya’s making rose-tinted overtures towards the half-remembered sounds of the Reagan years, but the fact that he’ll choose to employ, say, a warbling violin instead of an unsteady synth line shouldn’t alter the appeal of his music.
And his debut full-length Peace Of Mind is plenty appealing. The very first track (fittingly titled â€śIntroâ€ť) makes it clear that this is to be a deeper and more exploratory effort than last year’s EP. Cautious piano notes again open the song before being joined by, yes, a gentle synth line that sounds ripped from the Cathedral Oceans recording sessions. It’s a placid, soothing opener that in no way prepares the listener for the rather aggressive backbeat that barges in around the 1:20 mark. Takuya masterfully combines old and new techniques in order to update (but not abandon) his sound: the drums hit harder; the acoustic guitar is less twangy and more textural; there’s some kind of reed instrument that takes the place of the strings we might have expected on the EP. The one constant is his piano work, classy as ever yet never boastful, leading these songs without dominating their sonic environments. Takuya is the sort of confident musician who doesn’t feel the need to show off his skills with grandstanding or overbearing solos. It’s refreshing, like an extra ice cube in your lemonade.
Yet for all the care Takuya has clearly put into this album, the results remain breezy and effortless, perfectly fitting for the warm weather of the months ahead. The tracks’ titles reflect their unassuming simplicity: â€śOne,â€ť â€śCloud,â€ť â€śShe,â€ť â€śHome,â€ť â€śBlessing.â€ť There are thirteen of them in total, and for the most part they follow this same general formula: a sparse piano intro dexterously blooms into a rhythmic, sensuous whole. Sometimes Takuya adds some plaintive violins; other times, he sticks with his reeds or the friendly finger-picking of an acoustic guitar. There are no loud climaxes of clumsy denouements to be found here; instead, each of these tracks unfolds with steady quiescence, ending when all other sounds suddenly (but not jarringly) cease and sparse piano carries us through the outro. Only one track exceeds the five-minute mark.
This is peace of mind, the warm familiarity of Incunabula happily disregarding the abrasive, avant-garde stabs of Confield. This is a sunny day that doesn’t get unbearably hot, so you won’t be pining for any cool breezes or shadow-casting clouds. The beats are a bit more submerged on â€śSacrifice,â€ť but even then, there’s little to suggest the titular notions of struggle and hardship. Who wants to struggle when they’re sprawled out on the lawn with a mimosa and nary a care in the world?
In other words, Peace of Mind is a resolutely pretty album. And you know what? That’s okay with me. In fact, it’s more than okayâ€”it’s pleasant, damn it, and not just for background listening either. The melodies here are catchy enough to engage in their own regard. I don’t always want a challenging listening experience, and as contemporary producers continue to try to find ways to impress and amaze the listening public with unique or bizarre musical decisions, sometimes it’s nice to have an album that doesn’t really try to do anything at all. It simply is, and that’s more than enough for me.