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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.



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