I work in an office, shared by about 16 people, with about 3 square feet of desk space and no real divider between myself and my deskmate. There are no windows, and the only lights are state-issued fluorescent tubes. Quite obviously, it?s a terrible working environment. And moreover, even when it?s filled with diligent little worker bees just like me, it can still feel pretty lonely. So, I can totally relate to Hisato Higuchi?s vibe on his latest for Family Vineyard, ?Butterfly Horse Street.?
And the loneliness comes in bushel baskets here. I?m relatively new to Higuchi?s work, though I?ve been intrigued after seeing the accolades given his 2006 release ?Dialogue.?
My first thoughts are that this sounds a bit like Charalambides? ?A Vintage Burden.? Like that record, a goodly number of the tracks rely on very few notes being played, and each note that is played is given a fairly expansive space in the recording to stand alone, sustain, fade, and decay. On those tracks, where Higuchi uses the fewest notes, he finds the most success. These quiet, small songs wind up covering a lot of emotional terrain despite being relatively sparse. A run of notes can evoke warm nostalgia, but take a turn for the bittersweet as they sustain, and the overtones are given a chance to sink in. And Higuchi is not above soiling the scene with dissonance.
Some songs are less studies of inner space and seem more to describe a visual situation. Opener ?A Hundred Signs of Light? provides the perfect accompaniment to dust particles swirling in a shaft of light. Of course, the room is empty, the carpet pilled, the walls white and bare. Like I said, ?loneliness? is the watchword here.
But it?s a mixed bag, this record. On about half of the tracks here, Higuchi goes from loneliness to frustration, creating massive, immobile walls of guitar feedback and distorted squalls of barely identifiable notes. These are less successful perhaps because I find those sorts experiments work better if there is a musical narrative that builds to that point. Here they seem to emerge out of nowhere. And frankly, they sound a little like a guitarist throwing a tantrum. Loneliness works like that, often inducing tantrums. Higuchi, then, maybe deserves some credit for exploring the less romantic, and more immature side of angst and ennui.
I?ve never particularly enjoyed, however, watching anyone throw a tantrum, whatever the circumstances, and I can?t say I particularly enjoy those tracks here. The truth is, hearing Higuchi?s feedback-fests here actually blunts the force of his quieter songs. Whereas each of those quiet pieces are spacious and open taken by themselves ?Butterfly Horse Street? as an album feels far less roomy by being interspersed with what amount to essentially brick walls of noise. It?s consequently less possible to really appreciate the roominess of individual tracks in the overall album context. Obviously, folks who enjoy big walls of guitar noise will appraise the album differently, maybe seeing far more space to move in those noisier tracks than I find. 4/10 -- Joel Matthew (31 October, 2007)