Reflecting on Hinako Omori’s debut album a journey… from last year brings not memories of the music itself, but how her music is designed to make one feel. This is to be taken in the most literal sense because the London by way of Yokohoma producer is incredibly interested in how sounds affect our feelings, moods and stress levels. With a journey… she offered her exploration of “shinrin yoku,” which examines how nature and, in particular, the forest can improve one’s health. Omori implemented an organic soundscape of field recordings captured using a binaural head in the woods during COVID-19-induced lockdowns, then bolstered them with looping synths. The album was about the techniques and recording rather than the actual music. It aimed to simply provide as close of an experience as possible to the one the forest offers.
Her latest album stillness, softness… immediately strikes as a huge pivot. The field recordings are gone and in their place are her pronounced vocals. On first glance, they could imply that Omori has lost her way, but that’s untrue. Her experimental drive is still present, it’s just refocused on the machine she first fell in love with—the synthesizer. It’s a turn towards herself that mirrors her shifting thematic interests. Where a journey… was a comfort piece for the pandemic with no deeper ambitions than to soothe the listener, its follow-up concerns Omori’s inner peace by confronting her darker self.
In reality, that’s a much more aggrandized description than the album. Practically, it’s a relaxing, albeit slightly darker, record, though it thankfully retains one of a journey…’s best qualities: the seamless transitions from track to track. The difference here is that a journey… used them to induce a meditative state whereas stillness, softness… needs them to maintain its trance. It’s only when listening to particular songs in isolation that you recognize when they begin and end. The transitions maintain Omori’s great sense of pacing. She moves slowly, but the progressions from song to song hold one’s attention even if the music tends to rescind the spotlight. You likely won’t recognize where you are in the album initially, but soon enough, your journey will connect with hers.
Said trek through Omori’s character is minimal, with only a few tracks dropping clues about her arc. One is “foundation,” wherein Omori finds her footing through the help of one of the album’s only uses of percussion. The minimalist drums support her as she bluntly states, “my foundation is stable.” It’s an R&B cut, though devoid of anything but the heart at the genre’s core. It’s hypnotic. Omori strips the genre down to its most basic components yet finds a groove that acts like a beacon of light in the album’s framework. There’s also “ember,” the second cut on stillness, softness… that reveals Omori’s starting mindset. It frames her as being more confident than a year prior, evident by how actively she assumes lead vocals. Yet, despite these rare moments of clarity, the vagueness with which Omori acts is pivotal. It cuts any fat and fluff from the final product, leaving all but the few concrete details up to interpretation.
With stillness, softness…, Omori reasserts her comfort with unexciting music, which can be a difficult valley to cross for some. In truth, not much happens on the album. Even her character development is sparse from an outsider’s perspective. Immediacy is simply not a trait she cares to hone, but in its place are her deepened curiosity about music’s meditative qualities and, most importantly, confidence. To put it bluntly, Omori‘s second album would not be as enticing if she were less confident. The crux is that she developed this confidence through off-screen trials she pantomimes on record. It removes the stakes and emphasizes a soul in motion. It requires patience and being comfortable with a lack of overt conclusions, existing in a grey area art rarely enters for fear of boring the audience. However, you can’t approach stillness, softness…looking for excitement—you come to it to reflect.
Colin Dempsey is a Toronto-based writer with publications at Consequence, Invisible Oranges, Spectrum Culture, and more. There will always be more to write about, and he wants to cover it all.