Sometimes I get the feeling that electronic artists have given up. DJ Shadow and UNKLE aren’t producing music as heady and compelling as they used to. RJD2 has veered toward an even more dancey style. And, all in all, there haven’t been too many electronica albums that seemed worth giving a good listen, let alone a chunk of your paycheck. Sure, there’s always something decent coming out of Ninja Tune, but the last Amon Tobin album was more beats than music and God knows when DJ Food will release a fitting follow-up to Kaleidoscope. So we’re left to discover something new, to find an artist out there that isn’t lumped in with the usual suspects. And apparently, the place to look is Japan. And the artist, from Japan, who demands your attention is Takayuki Joe, whose project No. 9 is one of the more compelling electronic outfits out there.
No. 9 isn’t easily lumped into one category. At once, it’s trip-hop, downtempo, drum `n’ bass and ambient. But it’s none of those really. The elements are all there, but Joe never fits into one easy sub-genre. On Micro Films, his newest, Joe creates free-flowing and imaginative soundscapes that pair up with pieces of art that are printed in the cd jacket. Each one is distinctive and individualistic, yet combine well as a whole. “From Mushi No-Ne” and “Importance of Detection” are mellower, ambient tracks that gradually build into layered compositions, the latter featuring some cut-up female vocal samples. These two tracks, however, are merely an introduction to the wonders of No. 9.
“Get Gut” is where Micro Films starts to get reaaaally interesting. Transitioning from ambient to a more upbeat style, this track adds some oddball drum `n’ bass beats, sounding more like Four Tet than early Aphex Twin. The ten-minute “Snow Show” follows, stirring up a mix of jazzy melodies, backwards samples and ambient interludes that melt into near silence, which gives way to the childlike playfulness of “Spring Sprout.” “Emotion of Four Guitar” and “With Millions of Love” both feature acoustic guitar predominantly among gentle soundscapes and the occasional synth squeak. And “then…will be running” is an absolutely stunning and hypnotic downtempo track.
On No. 9’s website Joe states, “Music wants to evolve. I want to create the world of sound.” And in creating Micro Films, he has engineered a microcosm in sound that stretches from the urban landscape of Tokyo to the nether regions of the moon. As spacey and odd No. 9 gets, the music remains warm and friendly, inviting repeated listens. In attempting to create a world of sound, Joe has succeeded.
Four Tet – Rounds
DJ Food – Kaleidoscope
Photek – Modus Operandi
Jeff Terich is the founder and editor of Treble. He's been writing about music for 20 years and has been published at American Songwriter, Bandcamp Daily, Reverb, Spin, Stereogum, uDiscoverMusic, VinylMePlease and some others that he's forgetting right now. He's still not tired of it.