Being his last solo Faxlabel effort, Tetsu here combines many of his more familiar, 'ambient' techniques with a new direction which isn't necessarily so gentle. In the past Inoue's name has almost been synonymous with radiant, blissful passages that usually incorporated thick, padded layers all intermingling with each other to create some marvelous combination of melody, texture, and rhythm. And Slow and Low does offer this flavor of audio indulgence. However, his final solo album for the label proves also to be somewhat of an expedition into noise, entering into the less understood and less tranquil regions of the Faxlabel universe. How else to describe tracks which, in the span of 30 seconds, go from soothing liquid synth textures to abrasive collages of radio static and distortion? Or that which opens with a deafening roar and promptly blasts the escapist ambient head into (or out of) headphone oblivion? Slow and Low is the perfect culmination of his Fax solo releases and ends his trilogy in a captivating way. With this release, Inoue demonstrates his willingness to delve into something fairly different from past projects. Unsatisfied with producing music that propels the listener into a pacifying euphoria, Tetsu creates an album that challenges the listener to delve into unknown territory. Acting as a crossover between his often-referenced past Fax output and his future environmental experiments, Slow and Low is an audible shrine situated at the edge of the ambient domain.
Man Made Heaven: The album starts off with the rhythm of waves washing up on a beach. The rhythm is right, but from the sound of the waves themselves, this beach must exist only on Tetsu's HD because the waves sound as if they've been mingling with radio static. Before long, the sound is transformed into a recognizable crackling radio chorus. With each recurring loop, the pitch of the voice is slightly altered, eliciting a subtly different response each time it comes around. A spray of electronic noise washes around the mix as you sit back and ask yourself how it feels to be hosed down with synthesizer waves. Before you come up with an answer, the sounds get even more clamorous before settling down a bit into a something of a melody. This candidly harmonious system plays out until the track's end, yet this is only the beginning....
Static Soul proves to be quite the disorienting masterpiece, drawing together various layers of ambiguous shapes and modes. Not to be confused with the other outstanding track of the same name on Instant Replay, the song that concerns us here is a darker, distant cousin. There are several stages to this one. It begins with what sounds to me like a Japanese woman speaking and a fragment of melody from a stringed instrument, looped and rapidly ping-pong-delayed between the two channels. The next phrase of loopage begins to trickle into the mix, a mobius loop of radio bytes and vocals stretched, contorted, and dopplered, as if by some intergalactic carousel. The sound of masked ambiguity, human yet non-human, always morphing. A pitch bender winds these tones around you, but what is going on here, exactly? Gurgly noises begin to bubble to the surface and a sequence glides in. It's a rhythmic, aliased slider kept in time with a slightly distorted pulse, adding a haunted touch to the whole incident. Everything is sort of interrupted by two Japanese having a quick conversation before we return to the music. Tetsu's sequencer makes the natural selection, choosing sounds which will compete and overlap as another whirring intonation facilitates the theme's disintegration.
Automatic Motion: Prepare yourself for re-entry. If your encounter with the luminous Static Soul launched you into high orbit, Automatic Motion is that invisible force which will pull you back through the many layers of the stratosphere, encasing your transport capsule in a silvery, frozen glaze. Absorb the experience before it melts away in the lower altitudes, there is still much to hear. Splashdown, the first threads of musical tonality appear: higher melodies backed by a lower more fluid accompaniment. Inside the booklet of this CD is a nice picture of a ray swimming around. I think this moment of the album goes well with such a picture. Imagine swimming just off the shore of some hidden island in the tropics, the sun is shining down through the crystal clear water, and by looking up toward the surface you can see the shimmering light patterns that the water's surface sends toward the ocean floor. A deep, rich combination of notes passes through again, while tinier sparks of melody sing one of Inoue's quasi-random hooked riffs. This divine mixture gradually settles for the remainder of the piece.
Slow and Low: Being the most lengthy on the disc at just over 13 minutes, get ready to navigate the multiple stages of the mind-blowing title track. Beginning with some sweet electronic lullabies, they begin to twist and warp into... something else. Phase two works it's way in, despite the intro's desperate struggles to maintain contact with your temporal lobes, and replaces the previous sound slice with a windblown component that stirs things up a little bit more. Softly at first, a little more noise emerges and breaks up the previous signal, guiding us into a more chaotic dimension. Rest easy as you're transported to the drone room. This one is definitely for the headphones! Exceedingly close up water droplet noises lend some contrast to the background as another morphed vocal loop, perhaps my personal favorite on the disc, swirls all around and blurs its origin. Out in space once again, floating high above the earth, you intercept scraps of lost radio transmissions. It's sure to invoke some feeling of deja vu, or some similar personal memory or experience, Tetsu's secret ingredients always do.... With massive drones in full force, some higher tones are added while the voices leaking forward from the past evaporate into the thick cloud of the present moment. Descending pulses reverberate this composition to its final phase, consisting of rippling midrange tonal surfaces and repeating layers of hi-end computer bleeps.
Polychrome Chant: This one starts out with a pensive drone, listen carefully as individual bytes fan outward in streams from the source into kaleidoscopic patterns. What sounds like a detuned radio grinds out more static while the drone shifts around. Ringing out from the gloom, the first overtly hospitable tones in some time resound throughout your listening area. The shortest track on the disc fits perfectly the description "slow and low."
Speculative Vision is the finisher, providing you with a affirmative glow which softens the shock of entrance back into the external world. One might draw parallels in function to the final track on Organic Cloud, which for me serves a similar purpose. Celebratory voices confirm your refreshed peace of mind as a tactile bassline establishes a solid rhythm. Filtered synth riffs add more melody, and a charismatic solo disarms the final remnants of negative energy. This vision is guaranteed to leave you beaming.
(review by [email protected])
Yes! The long awaited 3rd solo album from master Inoue. Ambiant Otaku showed us a beautiful tranquility in music, Organic Cloud gave us a journey of sorts, a dark beginning, a spiritual climb, and a climatic ending. And now Slow and Low takes us in quite another direction, but bringing the best of the two previous albums into light. The inside cover depicts a huge manta ray gliding through the ocean- quite an appropriate picture in my opinion. The note at the bottom reads, "'Slow and Low' is a Muzak for random sculptures and Mixmedia mood swing." And each track is that- a blissed abstracted sculpture. Man Made Heaven opens with pulsing noise...like ocean waves of static coming to shore...and adds layers until a shimmering breaks in...very much like the beginning of Plexus Solaris from Zenith. This breaks midway into echoes of static laced voices...something not seen before, except in his collaborations with Atom Heart. And the last two minutes are unlike the first eight. It's perhaps one of the most straightforward sequence of melodies from Inoue yet. Excellent. Static Soul opens with faded out voices and bits of radios...which fade into more voices...each one of which is recreated into its own sound...these then give way to abstracted bleeps and blips which form into a rather eerie little thing. Quirky almost. Very new! Instead of describing each track as I've done before (which would fill many pages), I'll just say that this is a great new work. Some may find it a mish mash of twitterings with samples thrown in here and there, but I see it more as a complex and sophisticated display of styles. At some moments, it is very harsh and abstract, yet a minute later it is nothing but soaring ambiance. Almost as if a framework as created in the first two albums and then given free reign to travel in direction for this release. This is not to be missed. Basically, I'm in awe.
(review by rdudley)