Everytime I put on Syoko’s Soil I have to do a double-take. Seriously? The music coming out of my headphones right now was made by the same person who created the My Neighbor Totoro soundtrack and Kichijoutennyo. Sonically, I can see the connection to the latter but stretching the conceit to his countless Miyazaki soundtracks seems to question his elasticity in tackling this new style. However, it is in fact Joe Hisaishi who provided his magic touch to this unlikely blend of Japanese industrial Pop music. The lead singer of cult Japanese goth rock band G-Schmitt, Syoko, wanted something that could separate her from the more warmed-over sound of that group. And sure thing, Joe finds a way to do so.
Not one to do things the expected way, thankfully, Joe does his best to show that he could transplant the 4AD sound (think This Mortal Coil or Cocteau Twins) into his far more densely percussive sphere. For once, I think, Joe tries to sound as unpolished as possible to do so. In the span of 26 minutes, the length of this mini album, Joe sticks largely to a cacophony of sound – wayward vocal samples, heavily compressed electronics drums, and plonky synths that approximate fried out electronics – that start big and gradually zero in (through subtraction) on unique hook after hook.
“Erewhon” which kicks off the album is a perfect symbol for the production style Joe went for this album. Like a clockwork symphony for machines, Joe somehow finds a propulsive melody in all the knocking percussion that Syoko could float her Kate Bush-like vocals on. It’s this fascinating track, with chopped up vocal loops, intricate sample sequences, and mix of organic and inorganic sound that brings to mind (unsurprisingly) great mid-period Kate Bush releases like The Dreaming or Hounds of Love. Just listen to those booming, driving bass drums in “Sphinx of the Night,” sounds that John Lydon would salivate to bark over – that’s the welcome change of style Joe can tackle…when given the impetus to.
This attempt to sound find the magic in the dirt of noise is why Soil is an appropriate name for this release. Nearly every track features something that Joe purposely leaves raw and organic to make songs just pop around Syoko’s lead. Simply try to keep up with the chopped-up and twisted arrangement of “Magie” and watch yourself fall more under its pull. If anything can approximate the sound of quicksand, it’s found in Joe’s outrageous sonic skills here. Then as a respite, on the next track “Sunday Never Comes” Syoko takes you to the marina with a slice of elegant tropical slow-mo disco (or slinkiest video game water level soundtrack never made) that only gets better as Joe amps up its wettest elements.
Do you know what’s the toughest part about Soil? Discovering that “Sunset” is the end of this far too short of an album. Joining the likes of Software’s “Island Sunrise” or Dennis Wilson’s “You and I” as songs that trigger all sorts of windswept, wistful vibes you didn’t know resided in you, so does Syoko’s “Sunset” aim to take you to that “golden hour.” Of course, in the hands of Joe, these same shores are far more poignant and personal. Magnifying the nostalgic melancholia at a microscopic level (via doppler-like pings and plunks that Joe should trademark by now), “Sunset” sends you off, right at the moment you were being swept away. Of course, knowing Joe’s style, you’d think we’d expect this by now. Now, as for Syoko, she still had another great one in her, but that’s for some other time.