Chihei Hatakeyama, after a healthy decades good exposure in the ambient field as a torchbearer of peaceful drones and sibilance should he strike the strings of his delayed electric guitar, presents “Mirage”, an album in the vein of classics like “Saunter” from 2003 and “Light Drizzle” from 2009. Generally focussing on the possibilities of decay trails, Mirage moves with an unearthly abandon. Field recordings of industrial action and children’s play recalls Chris Dooks, while the ambience is alike to Tom Honey’s Gòod Weather For An Airstrike project.
A summary does never do Chihei Hatakeyama due justice. For all this time I have spent collecting his albums, since his major label releases (Room40, Hibernate, Nomadic Kids Republic I believe were sent demos when BVDub picked up the wings of underexposed drone exports and jet-packed them into real ambient consciousness). Wherever you picked up on Chihei – maybe even as mainstream as Wire magazine and Fluid Radio on the web...I have to assert he’s one of my top 10 droners. That list includes big names like Hakobune, Liz Harris (Grouper), Oophoi, Steve Roach, Stars Of The Lid, Simon Scott (Slowdive), Brian Eno, Harold Budd, Hammock...mmmhmmm...some of my fave “others”.
Opening with the bereft breath of “Sad Ocean”, one immediately realises this is simply breath taking music set to scenic views of ambient scenes. Car windows being opened; cool breezes blowing in; or an early morning 5am walk. Thus quality is athletic styled lather, and the soft emotional heft is rendered like real leather interior design, here lies the elasticity principle of Chihei’s sound. What is supple and you get lost in it just as you would the focus of this sentence if it curved into discussion about fabric only. I’m to question how this music collection is so important that it will soundtrack my entire life comfortably. And it does, it will, it can. This sense of comfort and familiarity one feels when taking a listen to these serene wafts of new ago atmosphere is the opposite of new age kitsch.
The answer to why “Mirage” works so well, lies in a somatic response slowness yet paradoxical freedom. Attitudinal its an escape from life’s stasis field – take the lighthouse beacon sound of “Starlight And Black Echo”. Chihei sounds like he was searching deep within when making this. The strange echoing surfeit calms the nerves and puts pay to the hauntological idea of our memories being captured and left to bounce between the speaker system. Like ghost code, it is an aural monologue...is that the meaning of the mirage, we wonder? Pulsing tones reach a refrain then ebb away into comparable dark matter. It is time to see the light, the gut feeling, the mirror; of really belonging.
Indeed this is an lp conjuring mainly lighter shades on the colour wheel of life. With a fine Eton Mess of strawberry creamed texture cranking the cooker DC until the electronics have buttered us up completely, “Distant Steam Train Whistle” introduces a atmospheric harpsichord to lay the table and create a conversation portal for less hazy, more smoky guitar. The whole thing stands up to criticism of going on too long, as to me about an hour is the perfect length for a drone fest. Given the subtle placations throughout, it is amazing the music sounds so peaceful. I’m truly in awe of its warmth.
When I consider drone benchmarks, I think Budd & Eno – The Pearl is comparable here. Nothing borders on creating non-environmental tuning – the music is subtly weaved, controlled, and never totally knockout visceral. The pastoral essence is bottled and releases in places like a effectively placed land mine...a gaseous land mind, excellently perfumed and fighting the bad odour of cheap petrol-heavy streets where everything gets recorded (unless Chihei really lives far out). Indeed, if made in the 60s, hippies would be getting high around a bong to sounds contained here.
With most of the morass a lost-phase, a haze-dream, a bushy-nature-reserve of ambient logic, the ambience throughout “Mirage” is ripe when viewed through the first year psychology topic of reverse psychology. Why is this? Because the drones are: dense, thick, organic, unfiltered, healthy and extremely nutritious in the context of the drone music lovers palette. Like the aforementioned comparison of Tom Honey’s work, “Anatolia Mirage” hums a short poem of tones – tone poetry, a melodic haiku, with drones that are rather not long-winded, instead they are carried by the wind.
The a plus transcendental introspection created by the soliptic stress-straining slipstreams cajoles the listener’s expectations like kale being filtered through a sieve. Or pillows before bedtime laid out for a siesta or long snooze. Perfect for night and day time, but cornerstone logic is for weightless contexts, in a nutshell. There needs to be music like this made, for certain. I would not mind betting Hatakeyama has a third life from production and field recording for nature program music.
If there is any weakness of “Mirage”, it is as such that it is not very energising. Some would say it is too samey. To me though, when you have mood music as classy as this, sideswipes like that become irrelevancies. It becomes meaningless. When the music is this inspiring and meaningful, on the other hand, your perspective changes. The little man in your head vanishes. At least it does mine. I’m tired of half-assed critics who don’t know what a good opus sounds like. Mark my words, there is no way any educated listener of taste could describe this music as bland.
May we see more fantastic mirages from Japanese artist Chihei in future. The lps on the Kranky repped Room40 imprint after all – it had to be something special. This to me is Chihei Hatakeyama’s most realised work to date – never disappointing, never ghostly...this time, the mirage is permanent.