You think three months would be enough time to warm up to an album, right?
I’ve spun Sasagawa Miwa’s second album, Amata, just about non-stop since its release in January 2005, hoping there would be a tipping point where I could wrap my head around what she was doing this time around.
It didn’t take me three months to reach the conclusion her debut album, Jijitsu, was one of the most original works to come across my media player in a long, long time. (Hell, it didn’t take me three seconds to decide that.)
But with Amata, I’ve waited and waited.
It just isn’t going to happen. Sophomore slump? Perhaps.
Thing is, Sasagawa on a bad day is still far and away distinctive from any of her contemporaries — in Japan or the rest of the world.
Amata continues Sasagawa’s exploration of traditional music and pop. It’s not everyday a Japanese songwriter writes pop songs with a definite influence from Scottish waulking music.
The opening title track offers very little melodically — it’s nearly a drone on a single note, but her rhythmic delivery feels ancient.
The singles off the album are stellar — “Tomenaide” is one of those songs that never wears on repeat, while tribal-like drums provide the rhythmic foundation for “Anata Atashi”.
The first half of the album possesses the most interesting moments. The robotic-delivery of “Kodoku” belies is rock edge, while “Yuitsu no Mono” is the most earnest song on the album.
The middle of the album drags with the non-descript “Koosui” and “Joshin” neighboring each other, and while “Saki” is an breathtaking combination of guitars, folk vocals and a slowed-down techno beat, “Mooja” pretty much crashes the album.
By itself, “Mooja” is the darkest song on Amata, stretching at a lengthy 6’45”. It’s also an anamoly, influenced by cabaret jazz, though still rooted in Sasagawa’s ethereal songwriting.
It’s taken a while to warm up to this song’s charms, but for the flow of the album, it does nothing for momentum. It doesn’t help “Utsukushii Kage”, one of Sasagawa’s strongest singles, follows to make that contrast all the more obvious.
The album does end on a tender note, with “Hachimitsu” and “Toki” bringing the songwriter to more solid ground.
Amata is not the tight, appealing construct of its predecessor. It’s better moments are indeed enjoyable, but the spotty parts make the album stumble.
Still, Sasagawa Miwa maintains her edge. Even when she falters, it’s still fascinating to hear her work.