Invisible Island is a place of comfort without trivialization: a collection of simple songs that invite blissful quietude without any of the hollowness us cynics often see in anything optimistic. Berlin-based, Tokyo-born Midori Hirano instead tells us— through the transcendental language of stark, beautiful piano— that there is some essence of pure happiness and warmth in this world, as riveting and complex as the gleeful darkness of melancholia.
Following last year’s excellent Mirrors In Mirrors, these compositions center around the elegant, unrushed notes of Hirano’s piano. The clarity of melody sometimes evokes the sensation of watching a dance recital, as if Hirano’s fluttering hands are slow motion ballerinas. The arrangements are spare, but an indiscernible rhythm glues the ambience together. Her music invokes a soft hypnotism, making it easy to ignore the swooshing electro-acoustic soundscapes that sit atop nearly every track. By the time “Remembrance” starts, the piano has abandoned the sonic sphere, leaving its ghost in the ethereal pockets of washy synthesizer. When the instrument makes its inevitable return, it’s in pure symbiosis with the other nebulous elements, making it impossible to ignore the two together.
Few ambient records as of late have had a title as apt as Invisible Island. It feels as if Hirano was searching for something already existent but ill-defined. The album conjures expansive feelings of peace and serenity through its uncomplicated sonic world, never taking the listener for granted. The constant spiraling energy of “November” flips anxiety into exuberance; the staccato bristles on “Glass” revel in whimsy instead of adjacent feelings of mania. The final trio of songs — “Belong” (a duet with Christoph Berg on violin), “End of the Night,” and the title track — travel closest to that titular space. These sublime compositions flirt with the boundaries of pleasant, beautiful classical. They suggest, with playful urgency, that the end is near, and there’s only so much time to describe this invisible island. I still can’t quite picture it, but I’m enjoying the attempt. (Josh Hughes)