Japan’s Ichiko Aoba is decidedly a straight shooter when it comes to her choice of songwriting tools and album artwork. Armed only with her guitar and her voice – and solid colors – she hits her target dead-on while eschewing anything more than the bare essentials, and she gets the job done quite well.
Her 2012 full-length, Utabiko, makes a valid case for simplicity. Covered in the thin, ambiguous veil of minimalism, Aoba delivers subtle brilliance in spades from the humble spaces in her heart in as direct a manner as the singer-songwriter ensemble can muster. Stylistically Aoba’s sound is minimal contemporary folk, with an occasional lean toward Nara Leao bossanova. Her voice is soft and breezy, breathing whimsy and bliss into the music at nearly all times, as delicately but as genuinely as foreseeable. Resulting from this is a sound that is occasionally haunting in its semi-presence, yet you undoubtedly feel engaged with the artist, even when her voice descends to a flickering, frail whisper. Equally soothing, her guitar strums are constantly in a state of motion. Her music glides from wonderful hook to wonderful hook like she has a million things to say in a very short amount of time, and never does the standard verse-chorus-verse structure come into effect. This is the soundtrack to stopping and taking a look around yourself in the middle of the day, both up in the sky and along the ground, yet it is also music to sit still to, as the music is so subtle and delicate it’s easy to overlook the minute graces that are interweaved in the fabric. An ideal setting is taking a wandering drive through the prairie on a dry spring noon. There is much to observe in these ever-changing environments, with a little serenity and patience.
Her choice of color to represent the music on display for Utabiko couldn’t be more concise. Representing the album in a fittingly dreary tone is nothing more than a solid canvas of faded green, nearly-beige; a humble picture painted in a single humble color. Though it can be perceived as bland, to do so would also mean missing the point of the music contained inside as well. This particular shade of green-beige is befitting of the atmosphere the music projects; sun-bleached sands mixed with salt water, where you dip your toes in and run your fingers through softly; birch wood trees tinged with the vignette of blurry green leaves in the distance; hibernating greenery quietly recoloring in the midst of early spring. Notice the green isn’t very thick at all; it’s only just discernible as green – the grass is dry but you can see its true color. Likewise, the music is soft and scarce but the life and warmth remains undeniable present. Aoba plays to the listener, her emotion is tangible and glides straight toward you. Those craving a song from the heart to accompany their upcoming morning spring strolls need wander no further than the prairies of Utabiko for that excellent, non-demanding chicken soup for the ears.
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