I stumbled across Tujiko Noriko’s recent project, Crépuscule I & II, completely by chance. Thanks to an excited tweet from a fellow critic (usually a good sign), “Fossil Words” jumped out at me from the swirling vortex of social media, and it turned out to be one of those rare things that can stop a scroller in their tracks: a slow, winding, and beautiful exploration of hushed vocal melodies, the bare frame of a ‘song’ pushed and pulled by endlessly-varied sonic details, a masterwork of that most wonderful genre and catch-all term, ‘Ambient’. While Noriko has clearly been around the block — she’s released several albums on the prominent Austrian electronic label Mego and recently expanded her work into film — I had never heard of her before. I decided to make up for lost time.
The beautifully deconstructed song-forms of “Fossil Words” are not all Crépuscule I & II has to offer: there are also the cinematic vistas of “Opening Night”, the haunting sing-song melodies and discordant swells of “Bronze Shore”, and the deep, patient resonances of “A Meeting at the Space Station”. The second of the album’s two parts, Crépuscule II, features double-digit track lengths that allow Noriko to take her wanderings even further afield. On “Roaming Over Land, Sea, and Air”, we are treated to 25 minutes of buzzing, stuttering electronics, siren-like swoops, and some of the album’s most gripping vocal passages: “In the car park playing by yourself / I laughed so hard I cried and fell / could it be the ground was shaking?”
While I think Noriko is at her best among the concision and elegance of songs like “Fossil Words”, I also love her willingness to leave time and space for her rich soundscapes to breathe (aspiring ambient artists take note). The vast swaths of instrumental texture that dot the record gradually set the scene for Noriko’s quiet words, providing moments of deep immersion that give Noriko’s voice an uncanny weight when it finally arrives. Sometimes these two halves of Noriko’s sound meet in surprising ways: the opening track of Crépuscule II, “Golden Dusk” features an extended field recording of children yelling, playing, and singing followed by a fluttering vocal passage in which Noriko seems to be begging these tender moments to last forever.
In short, the widespread praise from critics and listeners of all stripes is warranted. This is a great record. It is defined by its reserve and confidence in sculpting what must have been an absolute mountain of field recordings and sonic experiments into a quietly intense evocation of the mysteries that surround memory, intimacy, and the passage of time. Using the lightest and surest of touches, Noriko manages to find the perfect place for everything, never letting any one sound overstay its welcome. I have no idea how she does it.