Creative peak

That UA — she doesn’t do anything half-way.

When she puts on a show, she milks her songs for everything they have to offer — and makes her band work for every penny she’s paying them.

Sora no Koya, UA’s second live album, follows a period of exponential creative growth for the artist. In 2001, she rocked out with ex-Blankey Jet City guitarist Asai Kenichi on their side project AJICO. The following year, she crafted her most minimal and haunting album, Doroboo.

Sora no Koya is steeped in Doroboo’s aesthetic — even when UA performs her earlier songs, they’re imbued with that album’s sparse darkness.

And length.

Although consisting of only eight songs, Doroboo clocked in at 51 minutes, its songs stretching six to eight minutes. The average song on Sora no Koya is about seven minutes long — which means UA has taken a lot of liberties with her set list.

On “Sekai”, she gives violinist Katsui Yuuji and Little Creatures bassist Suzuki Masato free reign to add another three minutes to the song’s original six minute length.

“Aoi Tori wa Itsu mo Human-ge” receives a total transformation, turning from slow guitar ballad to an eerie landscape of long drones and quiet pulses.

For her supporting band, UA brought together an impressive line-up from some of Japan’s most experimental bands, including percussionist Asa-Chang, and Oono Yumiko from avant-rockers Buffalo Daughter.

The mostly acoustic band suits UA’s quiet, smokey delivery, but when they’re called on to improvise, they fire things up. Witness Suzuki’s and Oono’s energetic solos on “Toro”.

The band also put a distinctive stamp on UA’s repertoire. “Kazoetaranai Yoru no Ashi Oto”, originally suited for airplay in dance clubs, retains its beat-friendly pace but sounds all together new with its unplugged arrangement.

UA’s set list concentrates mainly on songs from Ametora onward. “Kumo ga Chigireru Toki” and “Joonetsu” are nowhere to be found. Still, that leaves three albums from which UA can draw, tying together a myriad of styles into a seamless, two-hour performance.

At times, Sora no Koya feels exhausting, but as a document of a performer’s creative peak, this album would be hard to top.