How do you tell a fairy tale using only sound? That's a question seemingly answered by Japanese artist Mokumedori's self-titled album. Utilizing an eclectic variety of instruments, many of the toy variety, this album appeals directly to the imagination of its listener, almost daring you to come up with a story to accompany the music. While some might be tempted to label this album as oddball modern classical, there's more going on here, since many of the tracks have a found sound or field recording aspect to them, making it as likely for a listener to be perplexed by weird sounds as swept away by gorgeous, playful melodies.
Opener “tomoshibi” feels like a standalone track somewhat disconnected from the rest of the album, but its flowing music box melody goes a long way in crafting an atmosphere completely removed from the hustle and bustle of modern life. By the time “dans les bois” starts up, a listener has been whisked off to the opening scene of a children's fantasy film. Reminiscent of the soundtrack work of composers Danny Elfman and Richard Band, this second track establishes a bouncy oompah rhythm early on, with bright mallet percussion and chirping birds figuring prominently in the mix. It's interesting to note that, despite the generally cheerful tone, there's a hushed tension evident at points in the piece, as if something ominous is lurking just out of view. Again, this fits with the fairy tale theme: every good story has a villain, after all.
Third track “nursery” is where I really began to notice the complexity of Mokumedori's production, since under the wheezing melody and piano, squeaking mice and rhythmic jingling bells are heard alongside strange creaking and cracking sounds. The sonic experimentation continues on the almost medieval-sounding and dance-like “dialogue,” which ends with what sounds like a door slamming, and “petit piano,” which finds the titular instrument being accompanied by squeaking and rattling toys.
Perhaps the strangest thing about Mokumedori is the non-musical elements that feature in many of its tracks. “sign,”arguably the album's most obviously unsettling piece, finds a lengthy section of droning accordion-like tones followed by 30 seconds of vaguely eerie tinkling bells and clacking footsteps. Subsequent track “ecole” has pleasant carnival organ layered on top of a murky, rustling ambiance, and the sound of a ticking clock (which seems to malfunction as the piece goes on) is a major component of “gate.” Obviously, there was a conscious decision to include these field recording elements, but I'm somewhat baffled as to why. Perhaps the whole album is a comment how the elements of the fantastic can bleed over into real life.
Despite its oompah rhythm and slide whistle interjections, “petit” is a slightly more moody accordion and piano piece, eventually yielding to the ringing metallic sounds and gurgling that kick off penultimate track “shinonome.” The rather disparate sonic elements heard at the beginning of this track are soon forgotten once another gentle music box melody pops up. The album concludes with its longest offering, the “yawning trialogue remix” of “dialogue.' With its mysterious melodic structuring, smoky atmosphere, and experimental elements, this satisfying finale seems to be the culmination of everything Mokumedori is trying to accomplish as an artist.
Though probably a bit too quirky to be to everyone's liking, I found it very easy to fall under the spell of Mokumedori's delicate and frequently mesmerizing music. I daresay that I've never heard anything quite like it before, and would highly recommended it to adventurous listeners.
8.0 / 10
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