We first wrote about Game Trails back in June, when we featured “Akal Ki” in our feature Ten Tracks That Sound Like Summer. Now we can tell you that Aukai‘s whole album sounds like summer, infused with a dual love of travel and nature. This is the year in which we dream of vacations untaken and those that are to come; Game Trails is the perfect soundtrack for this imaginative adventure.
Happy Black Birds’ video for “Akal Ki” offers a fitting introduction to the theme. A man is stuck in traffic in St. Petersburg, ruminating about his choices in life and his current lot. If only he can get to the forest! And then he does, leaving his car behind to walk among the trees, dig his feet into the sand, break the ice and splash cold water on his face. These tactile experiences fill him with such joy that he breaks into dance, then collapses, satisfied, on the earth. Research scientist Michael Yoshpu plays the protagonist, and given his job description one can guess he truly felt the liberation. In a happy reversal of expectation, the video does not end with a return to traffic. Instead, it serves as an invitation to “Rekindle” a sense that many have lost.
The tapestry of instruments on this album ~ harp, violin, glockenspiel, charango ~ reflect the bounty of life. It’s too easy to forget awe. We become so busy we miss the “Afternoon Moon;” we neglect to jump in the “Waves.” As so many of us shelter-in-place, these areas grow lusher and greener. And still they beckon. As demonstrated in the video, we need not get to the most beautiful place on earth, simply a place of beauty. Healing is only a short drive away.
As the album is also electronic, it produces dual feelings. The organic instruments sing of leaves, cool breezes, ripples and calm, while the electronics produce a sense of immediacy. The surging finale of “Waves” is one example, a propulsive prompt like a hand at one’s back: not pushing, but nudging.
Gregory Euclide’s artwork amplifies the album’s title. Game trails are created by animal generations; as such they engender trust. Highways are their antithesis, all-too-often constructed without regard to environmental impact. Aukai offers a natural alternative. His “Summer Tale” is restive and restorative, a counter-balance to the summer of political anxiety and pandemic fear. The music provides not an escape, but a respite. Remember what is there.
Has it really been 45 years since the release of Le Mystère des Voix Bulgares (and 34 since the reissue)? Lisa Morgenstern rekindles the feeling of peace the choir once embodied, lending her crystalline voice to the Bulgarian folk of “Zora” ~ to some, a pleasant throwback, to others a discovery. Aukai has been around the world and seems in tune with the planet, pun intended. Summer is not yet over. There’s still time to find, or create, our own game trails. (Richard Allen)