In the past, the music of OKADA has consistently flirted with rosy, sentimental vibes and ever-so-sweet, innocuous ambient / electronic love affairs. He has mixed the rose of romance with the thorny underside of lost love, boyfriend/girlfriend trouble and the very painful subject of betrayal. His electronic elements – padded drums, the coin-clicking of a hungry slot machine and the perfumed layering of feminine voices – have always been in control, sprinkled over the music. Now, on Impermanence, the ambiance is kept in check. The electronics are under the influence, turning the music a shade darker, as if it were viewing the world through a pair of aviator sunglasses.
The harmonies have largely dissipated here; dried up like a stagnant water feature, but when they arrive, they ring as sweetly as three notes in a chord. Impermanence is named after one of the three marks of Buddhism, where it’s believed that all of existence is, without exception, in a state of constant flux. Nothing is permanent in life, and neither is anything permanent in the world of music. Emotions shift and change over time; so does the music.
The four tracks – “Vulnerability”, “Unrequited”, “Ruiner” and “A Halcyon Moment” – obsess over transient feelings that were at the time thrilling and joy defining, but soon comes the unavoidable avalanche of messy, scrawled emotions as it all falls down and the relationship blackens. Female voices repeat and echo, and a harder beat comes in almost immediately. Impermanence quickly decreases its contrast settings and tunes in on a darker electronic color, but it’s still very much OKADA’s sound. The soul that flew like a butterfly in his last album, Division of Self, has vanished in the light of recent revelations. The voice disappears, and the music’s gripped with a fleeting state of panic or anxiety. “Unrequited” erupts into a sizzling, violent episode – this is new territory, and it’s vicious. Its full-on rage is dampened and then extinguished by a soothing piano. This aggressive opening was, perhaps, the moment when realization struck, and now this is the sound of painful acceptance. The pace slows down, either going into a state of shock or just shutting down and waiting for recovery. Now that the rose has blackened, can it ever recover? Does it even want to recover? Sometimes, music thrives on dereliction and chaos.
The piano is usually such a comforter, but this time it resides in the low register, giving off shady moods and tempestuous replies. But the vocals help to smear the music with the memories of her voice, moisturizing the music with the lovely, glowing sound of song. The chordal harmony offers some light. It’s in short supply, but when it enters it breathtakingly recalls some of OKADA’s earlier music. The lovely harmonic stabs are reminders that life can be kind as well as brutally cruel. Placid interludes highlight the skill of Gregory Pappas, not only in terms of his writing and his composition, but in his awareness and his musical sensitivity. “A Halcyon Moment” is such a moment, ponderous and reflective. The music has shifted again, placing its very impermanence directly in the light of day.
Impermanence is noticeably different from his self-titled debut and Division of Self, slowly growing on you. And that’s something to be applauded…do you remember Groove Armada’s lyrics? ‘If everybody looked the same, we’d get tired of looking at each other’. (James Catchpole)
Release date: August 7
And now, A Closer Listen is proud to present the video premiere of “vulnerability (edit)”, followed by the n5MD pre-order link!