Wispish light suffuses the listener from the delicate ivories that grace the start of into the shadows. Given the title, one could be forgiven for being surprised, but long-time fans of Ricco Label’s headline act Anoice will be comforted that the Japanese group’s diversity and emotional pulls continue on its fourth LP.
Driven by Takahiro Kido, who also set up and manages Ricco Label, Anoice has always rested comfortably in uncharted terrain somewhere between the citadels of post-rock and modern composition (self-described very fittingly as offering a ‘beautiful and destructive orchestral sound’). This LP sees the group meander closer to the latter than ever before, with most pieces composed for a chamber set-up dominated by the iridescent violin playing of Utaka Fujiwara. 2012’s The Black Rain delved into shadowy territory, seemingly reflecting a nation still coming to terms with the devastation wrought by the tsunami 11 months previously. Into the shadows is palpably calmer and, title notwithstanding, projects some shafts of light to disperse the threats that linger.
I had the pleasure of talking with Takahiro, and brought up this progression in mood.
‘As a matter of fact, the incident [the 2011 tsunami] hadn’t taken place when we were composing The Black Rain. Myself and Yuki [Murata – co-composer and pianist] had already finished it, and it was originally created with a focus on 20th-century tragedy and the various feelings of people. But the subsequent situation clearly impacted the album… At that time, most artists withheld their music, paintings, movies, and most of the media didn’t publish or broadcast them due to concerns that such “entertainment” might toy with people’s emotions… After two years, we decided to release it, but the album was deeper and darker than we had thought it would be when we started. A tense and angered atmosphere could be felt everywhere in Japan. We wanted to declare ourselves to stop this negative chain.’
‘I didn’t want to make an album like The Black Rain anymore’
So while in fact composed before the disaster, the album nonetheless struck an unsettling chord amidst its aftermath – one even with prescient overtones. This remained on Takahiro’s mind while compiling into the shadows.
‘Before the recording, Yuki and I already had enough music sheets for forming one album. I had at first chosen my pieces, “memories of you” and “a burnt‐out nation”, but then feared that the album was becoming dark like The Black Rain, so I asked Yuki to show those of her compositions with a lighter atmosphere. I didn’t want to make an album like The Black Rain anymore. Then, I chose 10 tracks that seemed to work well within the album’s theme from those compositions.’
The album in fact closes a trilogy on the theme of memory, which spans the discography of the label rather than just the group (the first being a forbidden garden by Films, reviewed here in 2013, and the second Yuki Murata’s Gift, released last year). Broadly, into the shadows gives voice to various fictitious individuals, some modelled on actual people and all expressing ‘something important’, as Takahiro explains:
‘Just like most nations in the world, Japan also has the problems of modern society such as chauvinists and the destruction of the environment. Recently, angered feelings are changing to disappointment and distrust against politics, media – and also sometimes those who we are close to.’
‘Someone buries their head in the sand against the sadness’
While Takahiro and the record itself do not delve into further thematic detail, emotionally the compositions retain the Anoice watermark of artists wearing their hearts on their sleeves. Second track “memories of you” overshadows the light of the album opener with a morose string progression that seems to feel the weight of greater despair with each repetition, while the lengthy violin refrain in “forever sadness” later in the album carries the sort of ineffable beauty that could beckon tears in even the happiest moments. But Anoice has always easily awoken the melancholy slumbering deep within – what makes into the shadows feel so fresh after The Black Rain is the range of other emotions it conjures from the listener. The cello-dominated “autumn waltz”, a personal highlight, soothes and uplifts, while “all is white” feels cleansing, its piano refrain washing away all that has passed before to leave a reflective, wistful note. Penultimate and longest track “invasion” switches between sinister and solemn, the snare-backed middle injecting a militant urgency but with the spectre of inevitable ruin ahead, heralded by the faint female vocalisation in its final passage. Rather than developing in an linear way, the album jumps around these different styles and moods, catching unawares and rendering it more like a soundtrack to an Alejandro Iñárritu multi-strand narrative film. As Takahiro explains, this was because of both the album’s premise:
‘Each track has its own protagonist. Someone is plunged in grief somewhere; someone buries their head in the sand against the sadness somewhere else.’
As well as consideration to themselves as musicians and producers:
‘We wanted to challenge ourselves with something new. We usually don’t think what listeners will feel when they hear our music, but as the producer I didn’t want to let them get tired of this album. So we arranged the tracks with as much style as we could while using the same instruments.’
The ever-humble Takahiro of course does himself a huge disservice here – not only because of the varied mood, but because the instrumentation used is also wider than most others would employ. This is most evident in the album’s post-rock-esque centrepiece “a burnt-out nation”, a gloomy and overdriven ode to ‘the beginning of another historical point’, and the lulling “lost in daydreaming”, whose ambient textures are composed of classical guitar, glockenspiel and synth, backed by timpani-esque percussion. By the time we are left with, appropriately, “what is left”, we have come full circle – the coda another exquisite Yuki Murata piano piece that drapes a reflective pall over the listener.
‘There is no solution to my serious problem, haha’
As Takahiro is a professional composer by day, some of these pieces started out as commissioned works for third parties. I ask him to reflect on how he balances commercial responsibilities with his artistic aspirations.
‘Yuki and I are usually composing music for commercial films, movies or events everyday, but we sometimes think that some is good enough to fit well with our projects. So we often reinvent the melodies or chord progressions from those works for our own albums. It’s so difficult for me to keep the balance between an artist and a music label owner, and few members work on the promotion for our albums and releases. But I never complain about that, because I respect their artistic style. If they start to think about the commercial problems such as production costs, Anoice and our other projects might not be as attractive for me and most of our fans. So, there is no solution to my serious problem, haha.’
Despite the pressures on finances and ideals, however, Takahiro has no plans to slow down Ricco’s output. Originally conceived as merely a vehicle their own projects, the small, Tokyo-based label now has a truly international roster. It is currently playing host to New York’s Sontag Shogun on tour and will this year release the second LP from UK-based Haiku Salut. As for its own, look out for new albums from Films, RiLF and Takahiro Kido himself in the near future. But of course, there’s nothing quite like an Anoice release. I’ll leave you with Takahiro’s thoughts on the primary intent of this album and the group’s music in general:
‘We designed the memory trilogy, including into the shadows, as a related work of conceptual art, so we’d be happy if listeners feel something of what we suggested. However, although the albums are cinematic, music is not a novel, so listeners may just use them as background music for their own stories, their own memories.’ (Chris Redfearn)
Anoice will be touring in Russia/Europe from May to June 2015, supported by other Ricco projects, and have plans for a China tour and a show in Taiwan later this year. Check their website and social media pages for details and updates.