Lasting impression

The last time around, Yuji Oniki made an album that had great songs and subtle arrangements — perhaps too subtle.

Of course, it didn’t help that Number Girl’s School Girl Distortional Addict dominated my playback machines at the time I ran across Oniki. Although Orange prompted a favorable initial reaction, it didn’t leave much of a lasting impression.

In late 2001, Oniki returned with Tvi, and while the California-based, Japanese-speaking songwriter still refuses to wield a heavy hand in his arrangements, this second album is noticeably stronger.

Oniki’s songs are still gorgeously written, drawing heavily from classic pop of the 60s and 70s. But this time, he’s added small but significant flourishes which make all the difference — horns on “Rails in Vain”, a nice interplay of flute, piano and guitar on “40 Seconds”, barely noticable slides on “Transport”.

Oniki has also gotten incredibly meticulous with his songs’ arrangements. Listen closely to any one of the tracks on Tvi, and something new pops out — a counterpart guitar line, a keyboard part playing off a horn line, backing vocals that mix into the texture of the song.

It’s the kind of lushness R.E.M. strove for in Reveal, but Oniki uses fewer musicians to achieve the same effect.

Oniki has brought himself a bit more forward in the mix, which is both a good and bad thing. Oniki’s fragile warble may put off listeners at first, but after a period of adjustment — two listens, tops — his voice sounds appropriate for his music. (That’s not to say other artists wouldn’t do just as great covering his songs.)

As a result, Tvi exudes a real confidence. Oniki no longer has to hide behind reverb and minimal arrangements as he did on Orange.

More importantly, Tvi succeeds where Orange probably wasn’t given a chance — to imbed itself into a listener’s subconscience. Personally, I’ve woken up quite a few mornings these past few weeks with a song from Tvi ringing my head. No prompting, no provocation.

Now, that’s a feat.