Background music

“Background music” isn’t usually meant as a compliment.

Here at, any album that can be considered “background music” goes through the Music for Airports litmus test — if it sounds good when you’re actively ignoring it, it passes the test.

A number of albums have been subjected to this test, ranging from Radiohead’s Kid A(!) to Tift Merritt’s Bramble Rose(?).

So, too, must Kazafumi Kodama’s U.S. debut, Stars, be subjected to this test. (The album was originally released in Japan in 2000.)

It’s pretty obvious from the first few listens that Kazafumi’s non-descript but still intricate instrumentals may not fare well upon close scrutiny.

In fact, there are all sorts of devils in the details that may leave choosier listeners choosing to switch the CD. I don’t know if Kazafumi realizes, but some synthesizers out there actually do a good job of sampling strings.

When played in the background with few other distractions, Stars reveals its beauty.

Although categorized as dub, the album feels closer to electronica. The only human instrument on the entire recording is Kazafumi’s distant trumpet (and UA’s resonant voice on one track.)

In fact, Kazafumi weaves himself into the texture of his music — don’t mistake Stars for jazz; Kazafumi isn’t the showcase.

And here’s where it’s best to relegate this album to the background — listen too closely, and the humanity of Kazafumi’s trumpet feels at odds with the heavy hand of his synthetic orchestra.

The homogenous nature of the album doesn’t particularly lend itself to citing any stand out tracks. “Gekkoo Waltz” is distinctive primarily because UA sings on it.

Stars is a fine album, but in terms of passing the Music for Airports test, it does too good a job.