Music either holds our hand through the telling of its story, or coaxes us to tell our own. Bookshelf Sanctuary somehow straddles both. It has well-defined source material that acts as an opening scene to a tale not yet written; its calculated and changing soundscapes instead blank pages on which to describe our own imagination’s wanderings. It is the debut release of Japan-based Moan, formed of Boredoms member, Shinji Masuko, and one of the all-female psychedelic-pop band, Water Fai, whose occasional vocals add a controlled and effective human sheen to an already polished surface.
The clinical, synth-driven composition is spread across four tracks, each offering sonic variations that engage the listener. Although is engagement the purpose? The album is Masuko’s ode to an antique bookshelf at his parents’ house that held a variety of ‘paper-bound worlds’, from instruction manuals for gadgets and guitars through conspiracy theories to photo albums (the latter doubtless inspiring the third track’s title, “Summer Camp ‘79”). From such motley materials the young mind took inspiration, creating adventure where mundanity beckoned. Bookshelf Sanctuary is thus described as ‘a contemplative and sacred space where you, too, may get lost in thought’. In keeping with this theme of provoking creativity, a limited-edition version of the record comes with a postcard that actually blossoms into flowers when planted, with aspiring horticulturalists encouraged to share photos of their results on Data Garden’s social media.
Like a hypnotherapist, Moan use repetition to induce a relaxed yet focused state. Taking as many cues from contemporary composers such as Philip Glass as from post-rock/electronic outfits such as Emeralds, the pieces are constructed from layers of arpeggiated synth and guitar loops, which either build upon one another to envelop the foreground or recede to form a background bed robotically writhing beneath other textures, lines and the occasional sustained guitar chord.
Pleasure is derived from the details that can be prised from these layers. Opening track, “Banded Agates”, starts with a high-pitched ostinato quickly swamped but still detectable minutes later by discerning ears. A loop then enters in a much lower octave that morphs into a rhythmic bass line, as its pulses breach the surface of this undulating ocean. The self-describing second track, “Chord Ripples”, changes the primary means (from synth to guitar) but not the singular intent – a single chord strummed precisely and hypnotically, inducing a mindset unlikely to easily discern that this short piece in fact changes chord several times; the overall progression would feel exulting if conveyed more immediately, yet its wonderfully obfuscated delivery offers more subliminal resonance.
Returning to the earlier question, is engagement the purpose? The pieces may have been conceived by reminiscence but appear to have been reared by calculated precision rather than sentimental craft. Lacking much emotional direction, they will either focus or lull. Shinji Masuko found his inspiration in things that would not stir all hearts. Bookshelf Sanctuary is the blossom born of seeds sown long ago; it simply encourages us to plant our own. (Chris Redfearn)