It may seem strange to write about one tragedy on the anniversary of another, but when the emotions of one seem overwhelming, the empathy of its sibling may provide solace. The Sea Is Never Full remembers the Fukushima disaster from pre- to post-event.
Osaka’s Vampillia and the U.K.’s Dakota Suite (Chris Hoosen and David Buxton) had been their tour partners before the disaster. Afterwards, the artists were haunted by the loss of life and by the debris that washed up on shore, bearing scant hints of its former existence.
Listening to the album is a singular experience, as it is temporally sequenced. For six minutes, the album is but a tender, beautiful suite of modern composition, with piano and strings providing a lovely backdrop. There is no foreshadowing, not a single stray note to provide warning. This compositional choice reflects the suddenness of disaster and its unpredictability. Only when some of the other instruments begin to bleed through does a sense of impending danger arrive. A barely-perceived clock tick becomes more apparent as the twisting title track unravels. Finally in the fourteenth minute, something sinister this way comes: the throat singing of Vampillia’s “Mongoloid,” sounding first like wind and soon like the anguished question, “Why?” To Western ears, the singing may not possess the beauty it bears in Eastern ears, but the power translates intact.
The heartrending strings that introduce the track’s second half (together, the two parts are 45 minutes long) imply an elegy in reverse; given time to look back on the contrast between the savage seas and the ensuing stillness, the shores racked with bodies, one projects an overwhelming sadness upon the final carefree moments before annihilation. The emotion is nothing new for Dakota Suite, who visited such territory in The North Green Down; but the scale this time around is enormous, which makes their pairing with Vampillia essential. Alone, they could never have borne this weight. Together, they invite departed souls to speak through their music, channeling their voices, ten or more at once: anger and heartbreak, opera and throat, drum and guitar. And yet, as loud as the proceedings may grow, as removed from the peaceful, opening minutes, the voices never drown each other out, but weave a symphony of intense sorrow. This is what happens when words fail and music rushes in.
When the explosion arrives, it is massive, monstrous, inescapable. Preceded by a bass guitar in the sixteenth minute of the second part, the strings gather force like the receding wave that precedes the tsunami. Thicker, wilder, darker the turbulent water grows. In the 21st minute, it hits. None can run; there is no time to run. No time for a final prayer. No time to clutch a loved one. The end is ~
The end is.
The LP provides little time for aftermath. Any reflection that could have been done has already been done. Mongoloid rails against the sea, then is tugged back into its frigid embrace. The new waves, younger and gentler, lap against the shore, apologetic. A female voice adds a final instruction, a blessing, a plea: breathe out. The CD version adds two tracks totaling 17 minutes: louder lapping, cranky gulls, tolling bells. The LP ends in shock, the CD in salvage. Each has its benefits. The buffer provided by the disc allows for processing, for tears to be wiped away, for the first piece of debris to be lifted, cleaned, catalogued. The LP reflects the hole that will never be filled. Those who order the vinyl will receive a download of the full work, so listeners will be able to choose their option no matter what ~ just as we choose our response to a disaster. Initially overwhelmed by the enormity of what they faced, Dakota Suite and Vampillia initially asked, “What can we do?” Now they have done what they can, and have ferried the weight of sorrow one stroke closer to its destination. (Richard Allen)
Release date: 23 September