Both artist and album title alike are suffused in mystery. Today, Hyperion is the name given to the world’s tallest tree: a redwood in California that stands at 116 metres – but whose location is undisclosed for fear of visitors damaging the ecosystem. In Greek mythology, Hyperion was one of the first-generation Titans borne of Gaia and Uranus. However, beyond his children and his being the first to speculate on the movements of the sun and moon causing our different seasons, little else is known about him.
Little either is known about electronic artist Serph – certainly in the West, but also in his homeland of Japan, despite his causing waves with each of his numerous releases. Hyperion Suites is the fifth LP of a prolific career dating back only to 2009, and that was a mere three years after the the Tokyoite had taken up piano and composition. Anonymous and inscrutable, Serph has only performed in public once, back in early 2014. The word most frequently used in connection with his music is ‘utopian’, and in an abstract way it is well served. After four albums of frequently frenetic, joyously jazz-infused and universally euphoric soundscapes, however, Hyperion Suites presents a marked and warmly welcomed evolution.
The press copy notes that, with this evolved style, Serph is now ‘aiming for even greater heights’ – embodying the spirit of the Hyperion tree. The first of this generous album’s 14 tracks, none of which falls under four minutes, immediately introduces the most salient aspect of the evolution: heavy use of vocal samples. Although usually chopped up and tossed out like confetti, the female tones nonetheless lend a human warmth – but are never so prominent as to intrude. The addition is particularly suited given the more pensive tone that pervades some of the tracks. The best example of this is “wireless”, whose whimsical piano, delicate strings and gentle vocals create an enchanting atmosphere that persists even after a kick and rim click enter to drive it forward. The unexpected wistfulness of this track is only enhanced by its following two tracks of vintage Cabernet Serph-vignon. Sup at “monsoon” and “happy turner” to revel in the artist at his intoxicating best – the former a relentless polyrhythmic excursion to the escapist bliss of its simple melodies, the latter a perversely brilliant symbiosis of euphoric trance and stirring jazz.
The genre fusion doesn’t stop there, however. By employing more groove-based drum tracks in the LP’s second half, our intrepid alchemist produces passages crafted with hip hop. The second movement of “soul for toys” most prominently demonstrates this, with a pounding groove that locks in a conversing strings sample and bass hook, while the soporific intro of “alcyone” ventures toward the genre’s younger sibling, trip hop, before switching to something more akin to lounge jazz. Elsewhere, be surprised (or rather, don’t be) when the gentle opening to album closer “never end” jolts from reverie with a frenetic drum ‘n’ bass mid section.
A weakness of prior LPs, particularly the otherwise splendid Heartstrings, is a tendency to tail off at the end. Hyperion Suites is still perhaps two or three tracks too long, but its greater riches of genre and mood go some way to remedying this. One doesn’t often speak of ‘composing’ in the context of electronic music – it is a word redolent of classical music and organic instrumentation. In the case of Serph, however, it seems strangely appropriate. The artist seems to effortlessly bridge the disciplines of orchestral composition with the sonic freedom of jazz and the tightness of hip hop production. For those new to Serph’s utopia, Hyperion Suites is a great place to start; you’ll find plenty to explore, even if we have little clue as to what inspires him to create it. (Chris Redfearn)