okamotonoriaki is no longer a solo affair, as the Tokyo-based composer has invited some of his friends (Cuushe, Flica, Polar M and Chihei Hatakeyama) to contribute to his Happy Ending. The album exists in a liminal state between ambient and electronic: bouncy but light, soothing but not soporific. The beats are almost always present, but seldom overt, allowing the piano, textures and eclectic vocals (samples, stutters, songs, and Speak and Spell sentences) to occupy the foreground. While listening, one feels a connection to childhood and friendship, two influences that have informed the artist’s work in the past and remain present here.
Fragments of conversation, both natural and vocodered, are sprinkled throughout the album. The first words: “Hello? Can you hear? I’m okay.” The opposite sentiment is expressed in “Polaris”: “Hello? I can’t hear you.” The album reflects connections sought, lost and gained, the protagonists as far away as earth and space or as close as two sides of a receiver. But the mood is only sad in spurts; the album’s most endearing moment arrives in “Here And There” as a child exclaims, “Dinosaur! A dinosaur!”
Most electronic albums have sharp edges: beats that sound as if they could cut paper, if not wood. On Happy Ending, these edges have been sloughed off until they are akin to plastic play toys. Fischer-Price’s donut stacker comes to mind (“Baby can sort and stack the rings, then bat at the base to watch it rock back and forth.”). The la-di-das of “Rooftop Paradise” are akin to a lullaby, but adults need this sort of music too, especially at the end of a long and wearisome day. Comfort renews strength, and despite its flirtation with loneliness (“At the Window”), this is an album of comfort, culminating in the soft title track, replete with additional “la”s (hearkening back to the opening piece) and a sense of winding down. As the blinds are closed, the twinkling night light awakens, offering protection and peace. (Richard Allen)