Intensity (you are)

For songwriters, there’s music that inspires, music that evokes jealousy, music that invites ridicule, music that amazes.

And sometimes, there’s music you just outright steal.

A few weeks ago, I decided to continue building the home studio I was distracted from building a few years back. (Thank you, economic downturn.)

I reinstalled an old version of Cakewalk, fished out my MIDI interface and hooked up the keyboards collecting dust since I moved back into a bigger apartment to my computer.

My original MIDI workstation was stolen many years previous in a burglary, so I faced the daunting task of recreating work I did at least 10 years ago.

But in sifting through the one demo tape that survived the burglary, it struck me some of those songs could spun into an entire album of adult contemporary pop — jazz-pop for middle class housewives. (Oh, how indie.)

But I didn’t want to sound like Norah Jones on this project. No — I wanted to sound like ACO.

Particularly, absolute ego.

The albums which followed 1999’s absolute egoMaterial in 2001, irony in 2003 — are far more adventurous. But this album fit squarely in the middle of ACO’s creative transformation.

On the one hand, absolute ego is incredibly melodic and deeply sensual. On the other hand, it’s also steeped in a dark atmosphere, sometimes contemplative, sometimes alien.

I studied absolute ego thoroughly — picking apart the elements that made this album such a rich listening experience.

There’s a simplicity to ACO’s writing on this album — the nearly same three chords used throughout “Spleen”, the uncomplicated bass line of “Yoroku Bi Saku Hana ga”. And there’s an economy to the arrangments — the embellishments that only hint at dub on “Intensity (You Are)”, the sparseness of “Ame no Hi no Tame ni”.

ACO could have gone for a more commercial sound with the material on absolute ego. The “Director’s Cut” of “Aishita Anata wa Tsuyoi Hito”, after all, sounds like it could have come off a ’70s R&B album.

But its the production of Sunahara Toshinori and Yamashita Hideki that sets this album apart. They bring out different shades to the songs that a live band may have colored another way.

Even the steady, snail’s pace of the songs aren’t a hinderance — never does the album fall into a mid-tempo homogeniety.

The more I listened, the more I realized — ACO’S writing combined with Sunahara’s and Yamashita’s production created a repository of good ideas.

Amateurs imitate, but geniuses steal. I don’t know where I heard that bit of wisdom, but I won’t use it to justify lifting entire bits of absolute ego for my own music.

Good ideas are good ideas, and absolute ego is the kind of music worthy of creative larceny.

(And just to be clear — the project I worked on ended up sounding nothing like absolute ego. Steal too much, and it becomes imitation.)

absolute ego is an album worth exploring. It’s a seductive work, single-minded in its intensity, but never overcrowded.

And it’s an album that doesn’t tire with repeated listens. If anything, it’s the opposite — it gets under your skin with each spin.