splendid > reviews > 1/18/2002
Nobukazu Takemura
Nobukazu Takemura
Sign EP
Thrill Jockey

Format Reviewed: 2xCD

Soundclip: "Sign"

Buy me now
With Sign, Takemura restates, in straightforward and compelling style, the philosophy that has animated his recent work: making music should be fun -- as should listening to it. While many modern electronic artists seem determined to reduce their music to its microtonal basics, and to distill their process to a button-pushing science while they're at it, Takemura's tunes bubble over with ideas and enthusiasm. "Sign", in particular, is clearly the product of a youthful, buzzing mind; the song is filled with burbling rhythms and sputtering melodies, delivered with the tongue-tripping speed and inaccuracy of an excited child. Seldom has "laptop" music been more magical or more joyful. Perhaps Takemura's laptop is enchanted.

The key to "Sign"'s charm -- beyond the fact that it has a melody you can almost hum -- is its vocals. A friendly-sounding but primitive speech synthesizer adds a variety of voices to the piece, effectively creating a chorus of cuddly robots. If you've seen Takemura's live show, you'll have no trouble picturing the low-res, crudely-animated characters who "performed" in the video that accompanied this song (effectively tapping the same vein of inner-child-appeal that motivates so many adults to buy Sanrio and Hello Kitty material).

While it's inevitable that, as the EP's title track, "Sign" will be its most immediate and arresting piece, the rest of this material certainly isn't filler. "COGWHEEL" is a warmer-than-average take on that IDM trope, the "Quiet, Liquid-Sounding, Sputtering-and-Spurting" song. Yes, it sounds like a recording of someone using an entire tube of antibacterial hand gel at once, but there's a cute, trebly little melody buried beneath all the percussive sloshing.

"Souvenir in Chicago", Takemura's collaboration with Bundy K. Brown, John McEntire and Doug McCombs, accounts for the meat of the disc; at 35 minutes, it's clearly longer than it needs to be, and is more a string of ideas than a structured piece, even by Takemura's standards. On first listen, it sounds as if the guys whipped off a typically Tortoise-y ten-minute jam, passed the sonic reins to Takemura, packed up their gear and left. Subsequent listens make it clear that when the initial song ends, its deconstruction begins; there's even an initially obvious shift of sound and mood that, after a few listens, proves not to be so obvious after all. By contrast, the slippery "Meteor" sounds cheerful and jazzy, its randomized computer melodies and clumsy keyboard chords enlivened by a choppy, disintegrating, naggingly familiar breakbeat sample. It's every bit as good as "Sign" -- and, since the twelve-inch single on which it originally appeared is extremely hard to find, it justifies the EP's purchase on its own.

The accompanying CD-ROM features a short film that teams Takemura's music with imagery created by Japanese artist/animator Katsura Moshino. Don't mistake the film's colorful, distinctive animation for kiddie fare -- it's an extremely dark, surprisingly violent tale with a fairly simple (if contradictory) conservationist message. At worst it's a curiosity; at best, a masterpiece of quirky Japanese character design, worth watching again and again just to see the details of its whimsical, logic-defying world.

It's clearly a stopgap release, but Sign is quite satisfying -- filled with the promise of many new discoveries and the potential for a long, happy life in your CD player.



Brian Cherney

Tomas Korber


The Rude Staircase

Dian Diaz



The Crimes of Ambition

Karl Blau


Gary Noland

Tommy and The Terrors


Bound Stems

Gary Noland

Carlo Actis Dato and Baldo Martinez

Quatuor Bozzoni

The Positions

Comet Gain

Breadfoot featuring Anna Phoebe

Secret Mommy

The Advantage

For a Decade of Sin: 11 Years of Bloodshot Records

The Slow Poisoner

Alan Sondheim & Ritual All 770



Five Corners Jazz Quintet

Cameron McGill

Drunk With Joy

10 Ft. Ganja Plant

The Hospitals

Ross Beach

Big Star

The Goslings

Lair of the Minotaur

Koji Asano

Splendid looks great in Firefox. See for yourself.
Get Firefox!

Grizzly Bear's Ed Droste probably didn't even know that he'd be the subject of Jennifer Kelly's final Splendid interview... but he is!

That Damn List Thing
& - The World Beyond Your Stereo
Pointless Questions
File Under
Pointless Questions
& - The World Beyond Your Stereo

Read reviews from the last 30, 60, 90 or 120 days, or search our review archive.

It's back! Splendid's daily e-mail update will keep you up to date on our latest reviews and articles. Subscribe now!
Your e-mail address:    
All content ©1996 - 2011 Splendid WebMedia. Content may not be reproduced without the publisher's permission.