The best description for the sonic environment that Satomimagae is coined by the artist herself: “small outer space.” The Japanese singer/songwriter doesn’t make folk music in the traditional sense—though an acoustic guitar is the central instrument in her cosmic dirges, these aren’t vessels for salt-of-the-earth narrative storytelling so much as they are a vehicle for a kind of metaphysical escapism. It’s a kind of cosmic, psychedelic dreamscape, made with the barest of elements and inspired by the simplest and subtlest of images.
Hanazono, the title of Satomimagae’s fourth album, translates to “flower garden,” and there’s a sense of serenity and sanctuary to the atmosphere she creates from such stark and gentle elements. Her songs don’t move with the rhythm and pace of an earnest folk strummer but rather with the ethereality of something more otherworldly. The sanctuary that she creates is as much to take you out of the known world but out of your own self for a moment, and yet much of the album feels incredibly intimate. It seems as much like a product of a long-term insular, indoor lifestyle as it is a necessary antidote to it—an atmosphere of comfort that immediately provides the sense of walking into a distant and unfamiliar place.
Immediately, Satomimagae builds an atmosphere of gentle, glacial beauty in the just-long-enough “Hebisan,” a song that very gradually builds to a melodic climax before softly fading back into oblivion. The song feels almost as if it blows in on a gentle gust of wind only to be carried off as soon as it arrives. There’s a similar sense of ebb and flow to the sequence of the album. What begins as a spacious and open pair of acoustic tracks eventually rises up to the more layered psychedelia of “Suiheisen,” which features additional effects-laden vocal tracks and instrumentation, even the softest touch of percussion. Similarly, there’s a richer, gauzier sound to “Tsuchi,” which is a prime display of the kind of sonic illusions Satomimagae conjures, creating something big out of barely-there elements. And then it all recedes again, leaving nothing but guitar and voice on “Houkou,” a track that feels naked in the way that Phil Elverum’s least fussed-over compositions often do.
There are rare moments throughout Hanozono, like the standout track “Numa,” that sound denser and more voluminous than the other tracks here by an order of greater magnitude. There’s a bit of a smoke-and-mirrors element of it—it’s not as if Satomimagae has necessarily gone from Sam Beam to The Stooges here—but she understands the space she’s in as well as the one she creates well enough to make a few extra elements (drum machine, a bassy drone, vocal layers) consume the entirety of the song’s atmosphere. It’s that “small outer space” on display, creating a curious and breathtaking new world from only the mere suggestion of it.
Label: RVNG Intl./Guruguru Brain
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.