If the cover looks familiar, it’s because you’ve almost seen it before. When we reviewed the third record of Anoice, The Black Rain, Rich opened in praise of its beguiling cover art. Artist Yoko Shinto has returned to portray the mysterious woman again ~ but now she looks forward rather than down, and is on a path rather than a cliff’s edge. She has a journey to embark on. Purpose. Most telling of all, the sky is no longer weeping.
Ghost in the Clocks, the Japanese group’s fifth LP, sees co-composers Takahiro Kido and Yuki Murata return both conceptually and musically to that third record from 2012. It is a more focused display than 2015’s sprawling Into the Shadows, yet keeps some of that set’s sparks of optimism alive. First track “after the rain” ties the narratives together through both the title and sorrow-infused string melodies that course through its core. A distorted voice intones something that sounds like a countdown, a clock chimes and a menacing synth swells. We don’t know what has befallen this troubled nation (pick one of many recent disasters), but from here action trumps mourning ~ the stoic face of the Japanese to the fore.
With speed being the essence of disaster recovery efforts, this action is paired with urgency. And through the set’s first half, this urgency barely relents. “Time” drives the rescuers onward as ivories are hammered and hi-hats like the hands of clocks are steady, without pause. This early sense of sanguine purpose threatens to yield to frantic despair in “missing” ~ an equally pacey but more darkly cinematic track of looping piano arpeggios and swooning cello and violin lines. But when all seems hopeless, “heroes” emerge, finding further reserves of energy when others are depleted. This track builds into strident strings and percussion that punctuates before propelling the increasingly soaring melodies over six glorious minutes. Vintage, powerful Anoice.
But time marches onward. The pace drops in the second half, as a nation turns to reflection. The sound of clocks ticking provides the inflection, in one of three brief detours through natural sounds and ambient instrumentation. Murata’s piano commands the spotlight on “it”, a romantic ballad that marks the record’s peak, its progressions more colourful, its dynamics more changeable than the focused frenzy of before. The entrances of organ and violin, subtle and overt respectively, are wonderfully executed. The equally calm “rebirth”, by far the lengthiest track, is the sole acknowledgement of the band’s early post-rock influences, but its crunching guitar and sedate drums evolve ponderously, meaning the piece never really gets going. (More so than with their country counterparts Mono, who have trodden a similar genre path, distortion here feels increasingly like anachronism.) Heralding no real crescendo, a siren sounds as the instruments fade, and endures for well over a minute.
But all alarms end, people rebuild and nations heal. Rays of sunshine glisten off wet flora in “the light” and, after its close, a coda of leaves rustling and birds tweeting. Nature reawakening. (Chris Redfearn-Murray)