We’re lucky that Japanese composers Takahiro Kido and Yuki Murata are involved in so many projects – it means we get a frequent release schedule from them that alternates between Anoice, Films and solo records, as well as other side projects. The pair avoid oversaturation by imbuing each project with its own distinct voice – though often, ironically, bereft of any actual voice. Films is the exception to this and their most mysterious project, combining Kido’s post-rock sensibilities and electronic dabblings with Murata’s classical proclivities, and decorating the outcome with prominent vocals from two female singers – one of whom remains anonymous, both of whom sing in their own, created language.
Three years on from a forbidden garden, Films has allowed some of the more exotic flora of that intriguing release to wilt; indeed, the main surprise initially with signs from the past is the relative lack of surprise. Far from a negative, though, this set is all the stronger for its greater focus on the “voice” of Films – which is, appropriately, its vocals. Whether delivered with a susurrous sigh that holds our hand through strife, or in layers of operatic harmony that lift our feet from the ground, the singers act as the finest of lead instruments: expressive, dynamic and beautiful. They may sing in words, but no word do we comprehend. We do not need to – their humanity shines through all the same.
This is not to discount the other facets that also shine. Electronics still feature, but are used more discreetly. In first track proper, “snow in midsummer”, flowing piano chords carry the sorrowful vocals, weaving around each other in a double helix; but these in turn are powerless against an undertow of growling synths and increasingly frenetic percussion. The conclusion of “wind flower” sweeps the hitherto delicate track up in an electronic beat that crackles like autumn leaves under foot. Kido and Murata have found a way to fuse the elements of chamber, post-rock and electronics gracefully and, by extending the average length of composition from the last record, allow each to unfurl gently, budding flower to sun.
Films describes itself as ‘dark fantasy’ – a label that perfectly captures tracks such as “snow in midsummer” and “sympathizer”. But many are the rays of light that suffuse signs from the past. Lead track “kumoito” is pure dulcet escapism, with a colourful coda that evokes the vibrant Ghibli soundtracks of Joe Hisaishi; the stand-out “gentle rain” is sedate and soporific, transporting us to languid summer evenings with Rhodes piano and vocals that evolve from whispers to eventually soar over thundering ivories and crescendoing strings. At the more cinematic end, “wild hunt” is a driving piece that somehow sounds like the conclusion to an operatic Western, while the sublime starkness of “8:15” at first echoes the sumptuous closer to a forbidden garden, “Shining”.
The beauty always embraces the sadness
In this simple line does Films convey the core of its duality: two singers, two composers, two musical styles – together delivering two moods. Switching between dramas of the heart and the wonders of earth, signs from the past gives tangible and heartfelt human voice to both our sorrows and joys. After all the divisions tearing up the West this year, it is a gift from the East that reminds us of our shared humanity. It is one very gratefully received. (Chris Redfearn-Murray)