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Small Color: "In Light"

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From the sedate electric piano that opens Small Color’s In Light to the wordless vocals and glockenspiel of its final track, the Japanese duo of Rie Yoshihara and Yusuke Onishi paint pictures of a quiet dreamlike world. Delicate flurries of drum machine and videogame electronics twinkle antiphonally between the speakers. Meditative and repetitive lines delivered by acoustic folk instruments are augmented with nuanced flourishes of reversed sounds and samples of children playing. Gently chiming electric guitar arpeggios wind around analog synth sounds and Rie Yoshihara’s floating, reverb-laden vocals. The result is a sedate and introspective album as effective for “active listening” as it is a backdrop for one’s daydreams.

Many of the compositions sound as if they were recorded late at night in a dark attic and despite the presence of electronics, maintain a wonderful sense of antiquity. “Arrows of Time” layers banjo and glockenspiel over a bed of organ swells and touches of reversed sound files. “Hideaway” features the sustained of a mournful clarinet over arpeggiated electric guitar and glockenspiel. Onishi’s tasteful production adds a powerful dimension to the tracks’ simplicity, coloring the organic elements with often barely audible samples and textures that lend an ethereal and occasionally eerie quality to the music.

In Light’s lulling instrumental soundscapes are balanced with more or less conventional songs at times reminiscent of the dream-pop of Air, at other times closer to the quiet musings of Norah Jones or Bonnie Prince Billie. In “Heaven Knows,” Yoshihara delivers a quiet and childlike vocal line over slow-motion electric guitar, quiet buzzing sounds and a lulling sea of oohs and ahhs. In “Daisy,” the album’s warmest track, she gently croons “love, in love” over a bed of synth and acoustic guitar. “Life” edges perilously close to New Age territory, but the sheer beauty and emotional charge of Yoshihara’s vocal delivery makes it work.

Small Color are masters of sparse textures and space—the most effective elements of the music are its simplicity and sense of pacing. Most of the songs sit at or below a medium-slow tempo and each arpeggiated note seems carefully considered without sounding overwrought. As intriguing as the music’s textures are, the duo avoids the temptation of hiding behind cluttered layers of sounds. Rather, instruments and voices are often left exposed, giving the music a stripped-down sense of vulnerability. And while In Light clocks in at less than 40 minutes, the mix of downtempo songs and hypnotic instrumentals take the listener on a quiet journey that conveys a sense of alternately blissful and listless tranquility.

By Hannis Brown

Homepage: Small Color
Homepage: 12k Records

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