Vitex Negundo – Hakoboune (2014)

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RECOMMENDI took a road trip recently and decided it would be a great time to catch up on ambient music. There’s no better place than the captive environment of a car to let the long slow melodies of ambient music unfold. For this trip I would load my car’s music system with various albums that recalled a simpler and more elegant era in electronic music. Hakoboune’ may have been one of the most contemporary on the playlist, but its EP Vitex Negundo fit right in.

I don’t remember exactly when I began to really like ambient music, or was even exposed to it, but I know various Brian Eno albums were some of my early favorites. Albums like Ambient 1-Music for Airports and Discrete Music had a stately nature to them like classical music. The repetition and quickly unraveling melodic nature of pop music took a back seat as expansive melodies played out on a timescale of its own.

Then as the ambient genre took off around the early ’90, that type of expansive soundscape seemed to give way to studio trickery that added complexity and later dance and pop appeal. Not that that was a bad thing, but I missed the elegance that came with the stripped down and layered up melodies of artists like Brian Eno and to some degree Phillip Glass. Hakoboune was a welcomed return to that style of ambient music.

Hakoboune is actually Takahiro Yorifuji, a one man band from Japan. As a prolific artist, Yorifuji ranks up there with Prince with no less than 40 electronic/ambient releases since 2007. Mostly EPs, Hakoboune has moved from various small labels almost insuring that he would never get the mainstream distribution his music deserves. I found Vitex Negundo, one of his latest releases on Bandcamp. Bandcamp is increasingly becoming an important source for new under-the-radar music for me. I always get the feeling I’m supporting the artist directly which is why I was glad to pay a bit more than the low asking price.

In many ways Vitex Negundo is a throwback to that classically inspired ambient music of the past. This is all the more fascinating considering that Takahiro Yorifuji was actually in a hardcore punk band called Whales before making ambient music on his own.

No angst here, just the complete opposite. Yorifuji uses synthesizers and guitars to build layers of subtle melodies in such a way that you must listen for a few minutes to hear a complete melody cycle. It’s like seeing a detail of Pablo Picasso’s Guernica and then stepping back to see the entire story.

Vitex Negundo is not exactly a giant canvas, clocking in at just under 35 minutes. With just three songs, the longest “Saying This Once” at nearly 18 minutes. The first and last compositions have time enough to sprawl in a structured way. There are no vocals on Vitex Negundo, but “Cease To Effect”, the albums final track does come close to mimicking a chorus with mostly ghostly synthesized sounds that could be either man or machine.

Vitex Negundo was released just was the holiday season was starting in late 2014. The timing was perfect for a time of the year when many of us have more free time to slow down and listen. This most intricate of chill music however can be enjoyed at any time of the year. In a car or out.

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