There are certain days that pop up as popular release dates for labels and artists. March 22 was one such day that saw the release of the following albums via the ever reliable n5MD, Dauw and flau imprints. There was also the latest album by Lullatone “Music For Museum Gift Shops” which landed in my in box on release day, but as that is a Fifty-two track double album more time will be needed to devour that. Without further ado, let’s dive in to : Ex Confusion.
The third album for n5MD and Atsuhito Omori’s first on vinyl, “I Remember When” is his first release since 2014’s “Flow” (Orchid Tapes). The noticeable thing is the nature of the music which is quite different to that I traditionally associate n5MD with. The melody that is normally present seems to have moved to one side, while Omori unleashes a pure, at times fragile and oscillating drone release. It’s not that it is bleak, but the melodic core I have come to identify with the label, makes way for a release that feels environmental in the way the drones conjure up a feeling of a landscape which could be either physical, emotional or mental.
“I Remember When” is the sixth album from Tokyo based nostalgic ambient soloist Ex Confusion. The album finds Atsuhito Omori bringing Ex Confusion back to n5MD after a release each with Plancha and Orchid Tapes. “I Remember When” finds Omori carefully carving music out of hay memories. Emotive, abstracted, and overcast (as the cover art alludes to). Omori excels at his brand of heart to hands clouded ambient by utilizing faded repetition with ghostly percolating guitars printed to old formats. Omori has been doing this style of minimalist modern compositional ambient for nearly a decade but never has it sounded so focused in its conception. As a bonus to an album of such understated beauty Omori includes a recent collaboration with Thomas Meluch’s Benoit Pioulard pseudonym which further adds to the faded photograph characteristics of “I Remember When”.
I always believe that the opening track of an album can act as a window and give those about to listen to the work a glimpse of where it is that they may head. The opener, “To Seek The Path” hints at the darker direction I mentioned above but also works like an intro to the second track “In Your Eyes” as the both gave a multitude of layers of sound winding around or colluding with each other. The importance of “In Your Eyes” is revealed by the style of the drones that will be further explored in the album which include the layering that will provide much of the albums style. The briefest track “Forgiven” is a vignette of loops that manage to combine the decaying feel of nostalgia, but also the repetition for me, highlights those small snatches of memory that we hold onto when all other has seemed to have been lost.
The press release alludes to “Nostalgic Ambient” which is most clearly seen in the fourth piece “Tears” which combines the use and the power of loops to bring forth a motif that over time starts to disintegrate, as if a memory that is fading away. The tones contained within have a hint of coldness to them as they swirl around, flickering from time to time. It’s a track I have come back to time after time as it the way it unfolds is quite relaxing and alluring. It is something that can calm you and is the first to really have a melodic, albeit melancholic core through the middle.
Much like “Foregiven”, “She Missed You” is a short vignette that just passes the minute mark. Unlike the aforementioned track this one is more in line musically with the two opening tracks. It is shrouded in dense layers of sound that feels a mix of distant, obscured and close to claustrophobic. Possibly a soundtrack to a person in a crowded area looking for someone, it is open to interpretation as Omori relies more on drones than loops or repetition.
“Nothing Stays the Same” opens up the sound pallet with guitars being the featured instrument, alongside piano and drones that have the a string/flute quality. Omori returns to the building blocks of loops which works for him in this track as there are other elements coming in, but there is also a rough beauty to the piece. The ‘nostalgic ambient’ quality is there giving the track a sepia tone, as if discovered on an old cassette. It adds to the charm as if the music was clearer it would bring a whole different feel to the piece.
For “I Owe The Earth A Body” Omori brings in the talents of Thomas Meluch aka Benoit Pioulard whose release on the Dauw label “Slow Spark, Soft Spoke”shows why they are suited as collaborators. Exactly who contributes what is a mystery, suffice to say that this is glacial floating ambience that washes away fears with its tranquility. The tones, although somewhat obscured bring out a quality that reminds me of those days where it rather chilly and the sun is creeping out, yet to warm the day, but to cast light over everything.
The title track “I Remember When” reaches for intensity. The music constructed of drone abstractions builds on its foundation as sound collides and jostles, some with a ghostly prescence, other spindly and some metallic. While not a track that goes through movements and styles, it remains rather consistent in its form as the drones arch outwards, returning in slightly different forms. If you were to classify the piece it would be pure drone.
“What I Miss Most” uses an Ambient/Drone template that relies upon long form drones that are layered with different tones and lengths. The drones are linear which results in emotions being felt. It’s quite simple: the longer the drone and the way in which is left to ‘roam’ or ‘breath’ results in the emotional quality of the music. There is a swirliness to the music as if a dark breeze is blowing around which accentuates the music and the reference to loss that is referred in the title.
For the finale “Your Touch” Omori turns up the melancholy and loops to eleven and works his magic on creating this balance between repetition, drones and mood. the colour has been sucked out of the music leaving us with this mournful orchestral style loop that is surrounded by an almost squall like drone. The drones and the loops represent for me different moods. One (the loop) feels more like repetition of memory – the mulling over a single incident over and over again, coming back to the same starting point and the same conclusion, while the coldness of the drone hint at the emotional attachment to those memories. The feature that stands out for me is how the loops change around the one minute and thirty-seven second mark, where they really open up the piece and elevates it from great to excellent.
The music on “I Remember When” is not for the faint hearted. It is about remorse, memories and possibly tragedy. Omori manages to balance these various emotions by using different compositional styles, varying the tracks from more minimal to more dense. My personal preference is for the more minimal drone laden pieces and for that reason tracks like “Tears’, “I Owe The Earth A Body” and “Your Touch” are easy standouts. With the tone of the material it’s no surprise that the label released this on Grey vinyl as it suits the mood of the music. As mentioned before, it doesn’t highlight the melodic core of the n5MD universe, but fits in with the greater picture of variety of the labels releases as the following albums from Proem and Okada will demonstrate over the coming months. Music for a cold and rainy day.
“I Remember When” is available on Lp, Cd and Digital.