Under a spell

It’s been said before, and the comparrison can’t be avoided — downy sounds a lot like Radiohead.

downy’s name is pretty indicative of its music. There’s definitely a warmth to the band’s songs, an intimacy in the way singer Aoki Robin murmurs his lyrics, even in the way the guitars intertwine.

But the music is also incredibly dark. “Tortured” is an adjective that’s been flung around to describe the band, and it’s true. They’re not named “uppity” for a reason.

If Radiohead recorded Kid A and Amnesiac with a more minimalistic tack — as in repetitive minimalist — and used distortion as its only effects processor, it would probably sound a lot like downy’s second untitled album.

But the murky tenor of Aoki brings the Japanese quintet closer to another big European band — Sigur Ros. (So does the band’s marvelous habit of not titling its albums. At least downy keeps song titles.)

It’s easy to forget at first Aoki is Japanese — he apes Thom Yorke just as blatantly as Coldplay’s Chris Martin. But with his voice so indescript in the mix, it doesn’t matter what language he’s singing.

He could be singing in Hopelandish for all a listener can tell.

It’s all in the delivery. Aoki haltingly delivers his words syllable by syllable, as if finding it difficult to bring out what’s making his mind and heart tick.

Coupled with his bandmates repetitive arrangements,

downy produces not just music, but a form of hypnosis.

At first, it’s easy to tune out, to dismiss it as all texture and no development.

But allow the hypnosis to work, and there’s a lot of satisfaction to be found in the texture.

There isn’t really much point in singling out individual moments on the album as particularly stunning — the entire disc feels like a single-flowing work. Watch out for “Kuroi Ame”, though — just when you think the track is about to implode, Robin and his guitarist/brother Aoki Hiroshi remind you otherwise.

Of course, name dropping Radiohead is convenient, but like most comparrisons between Japanese and Western artists, inaccurate. It’s probably more meaningful to mention Walrus, mono or Luminous Orange — all bands crafting full, atmospheric songs out of seemingly complex and lean material.

downy’s second album does the same, and the result is entrancing.