Paris in the winter must be a whole lot different than any other time of the year. Yes, the feeling of romance and culture is still there, but the atmosphere to take it all in must impress all sorts of different stimulations. Romance, city and lights, filtered through multiple environmental layers, meet a more distinct cessation of time, where more curated choices have to be made. dip in the pool’s Retinae shares this feeling. An album that perfectly evokes that sensation of winter falling into spring, moves through new motifs, presenting a new evolution for this band.

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dip in the pool consisted of the duo Miyako Koda and Tatsuji Kimura. A fashionable group, dip in the pool were the rare Japanese band signed by a western label before a Japanese label. Signed by UK’s iconic Rough Trade label, dip in the pool’s aesthetic seemed more appropriate for the European continent than their own shores, it seemed. Evocations of China Crisis, Cocteau Twins, OMD and other like-minded elegantly-appointed sophisti-pop bands would be easy to appropriate but the sound was another story. Miyako Koda, lead vocalist, was the perfect canvas for this group. Bestowed with uncanny fashion sense and god-given model-level good looks, the combination of her breathy vocals (wavering between Japanese and English, affecting French affections, when not singing in French) and well-dressed visage floating above the minimalist music that Tatsuji Kimura preferred to play, unsurprisingly made them a success back home. Elegant, delicate, and gorgeous, dip in the pool was a group tailored to attract legions of fans. A startling combo evoking Japanese minimalism and European impressionism isn’t something you normally find.

dip in the pool’s debut, Silence, hit exactly the tone they wanted to present. Produced by Seigén Ono, with arrangements by Masahide Sakuma, and released in 1986, Silence featured songs like “Rabo Del Sol” and “Sur Le Pois” that struck that ideal line between sparse and spacious. Graced with a haunting album cover by Deborah Turbeville, dip in the pool, in sight and sound, were placed at the vanguard of Japanese new age music. A new Japanese new age music that Seigén Ono championed through them and his own releases wasn’t made to tune out the world but to strike a different attachment to it.

dip in the pool followed up Silence with 10 Palettes two years later. 10 Palettes steered the duo’s ship in a new direction. Released only in Japan, and retaining only Masahide Sakuma from their debut, 10 Palettes found them in a more upbeat kick. More directly tied to the YMO-indebted techno-pop of the time, songs like “Placebo Reactor”, “Too Two White Cuckoos”, and the Christmas-hit “Miracle Play (on Christmas)” found them both spreading themselves far beyond their reach. An album trying to do too much, in it Miyako and Tatsuji lost some sense of what made them special. Retinae made sure to tighten up all these frayed edges.

Like a watercolor you can only appreciate better from a distance, only to reveal its construction with closer inspection, so was Retinae. Far warmer and cosier than before, Retinae is the sound of dip in the pool accepting their difference. Refining their elegant motives, deconstructing their image a bit, it was an album full of beauty without much mannerism of the past.

Aided by the wonderful playing of other musicians like Yasuaki Shimizu and Morgan Fisher (who I’ll get back to soon), Tatsuji’s minimal instrumentation gets a more lived-in ornamentation. “On Retinae (West Version)”, that masterwork of a track, gives you a snapshot of the change. Led almost entirely by Morgan Fisher’s spry acoustic piano, Masuhide Sakuma takes great care in letting the gorgeous Shimizu-played clarinet ease itself into the bed of wonderful delicate electronics laid by Tatsuji gracing the edges of Miyako’s fragile vocalese. When bits and bobbles of the minimal electro-pop they used to traffic in just years earlier trickles in, Retinae fully exposes the power of this new direction. An album full of delicate detail, Retinae is full of tiny things that invite you to zero in, even further, upon future listens.

How about those faint romantic guitar and clarinet lines in “マルイ月トゥスヰート” that appear at the end of all of those percussive electro-pop fly-byes? Miyako’s faded acapella take on “Over the Rainbow” is another. Ending the A-side with a barely there, but really here (*pointing at ❤︎*), ambient ballad like “Land” that swirls faintly into fruition then proceeds to curl itself back to its beginning, is fascinating as well.

When the B-side actually begins with some sincere rockin’ out it unsurprisingly finds a way to work with the grander vision. “Enjoy yourself, and you’ll be safe” intones Miyako on “A Quasi Quadrate” and these asides fall into their proper place. Very light reggae finds its way back to their elegant sophistication, dip in the pool balancing all the disparate parts into one engaging self. The first instrumental on the album, “Kesalan”, pushes the envelope even further. Luxuriating through faint oscillations of ambient, neoclassical, minimalism, and Japanese folk music, dip in the pool joins tiny bits of each into a more powerful movement. “Six – Lovesixy” adds one more surprising layer to the ideas began on “A Quasi Quadrate”. A mix of Shimizu-led skronk with very proggy art-pop, transform further and further when overt tropical influences sneak in, building up another surprisingly heavy song.

As the album nears the end with “Gladiolus”, dip in the pool round back to the beginning, treating us with one final delicate, floating slice of romance. Although it might seem superfluous to end an album by retreading back to the beginning but “On Retinae (East Version)” is not the track to hang your hat on. This version sung entirely in Japanese allows us a more intimate peek into the makings of dip in the pool. Allowing us to see the beautiful stresses their own language applies on the rhythm of their music, this final song ends the album on a personal note we’d hardpressed to miss. Before the weather shifts so much you won’t have time to appreciate its full design, there’s still time to discover the high bits of wonder on Retinae.

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Retinae is a delicate, profound universe that is inside all of us. The word Retinae itself is not poetic but I believe it is [has] a romantic image. Just take a look at a starry sky. Sometimes I bend my neck and back to look at the stars and turn in all directions. Then as I stare, the stars seem to increase in number giving me the feeling I can see ever deeper into the universe. Try to imagine 14,400 cells lined up in a row lengthwise and breadthwise inside a 3.1 centimeter square stamp. This is what Retinae is like. A Retinae is what recognizes the stars at night and brings them all inside our small eyes. All the stars, so far away, live inside each and every one of us. When I realized this, I felt so much closer to the universe. A delicate, profound universe inside us. What a romantic word, Retinae.Miyako Koda

When Koda-san told me to the story of Retinae. I thought of music for a moment. It may sound strange to say but I had never experienced the feeling I was saved by music. However, the world would be a very dull place without it. Music makes me feel good. I don’t know why but I know when it does. It happens most often when the music touches a musical or sometimes non-musical memory inside me. This new album, Retinae, which I composed, was based on the perfectly ordinary idea that rhythm, melody, harmony, and performance are always most important. This is especially true since the technological innovations that been so important in music over the past few years have become standard. This album is similar to 10 Palettes in many ways. But the songs on this album have somewhat of a rock n’ roll element and others have been arranged in a more puzzled way. When we made our debut we were against rock n’ roll music. It was because we hate rock n’ roll, in fact we love it. It was because we believed that if we didn’t turn our back on it, we would lose our own originality. Now we believe that we can approach any type of music neutrally, and sometimes greedily. During the last two or three years I have become very interested in the kind of originality that comes from combining different things rather than the pursuit of a single style. I hope that this approach will touch something in each person. Although sophisticated technology to produce music has become standardized recently, this album is based on the fact that rhythm, melody, harmony and performance are the most important elements after all. As you listen you can see that I have used various technological techniques in many places but it is difficult to tell what they are.Tatsuji Kimura