Review of Ocean Fire [12k1046]

Lost At Sea (UK)

Ryuichi Sakamoto is a legend in the more ambient school of music, and amongst film makers as well; the founding member of the renowned Yellow Magic Orchestra has scored some two-dozen films, picking up both Oscars and Grammys along the way. Sometimes making his sound hard and cold, yet always staying true to the warm and earthy feel that is the essence of properly executed atmospherics, Sakamoto’s music has always pushed the boundaries of ambience in electronica. But having long since established himself as a master of experimentation within his genre, Sakamoto elected to branch out yet again, teaming up with Christopher Willits, most known for his guitar-based minimalist sound, to create “a sublime soundtrack for the ocean.”

Ocean Fire has tons of layers hidden within its seven tracks; every now and then sampled sounds of crashing surf (possibly the most over-used sound ever) transform into glitchy minimalist techno, only to seconds later be swept away by the waves again. Willits’ soft, warm guitar – more sympathetic to the emotionally-tinged and similarly-titled Surf Boundaries and in sharp contrast with the experimental drone of last year’s Plants and Hearts – punctuates Ocean Fire here and there, interjected as a reminder that human warmth lies hidden in the folds of even the most chill of Sakamoto’s very textured music. The synthesis is relaxing, and it can also be rather boring.

Unfortunately, Ocean Fire sounds too much like the throngs of new wavy/ambient mass-produced crap released by Garage Band- and Pro Tools-wielding shut-ins each year to distinguish itself or even capture the attention of the average listener. This collabo might be a wet dream for audiophiles already in tune with the 12k roster, but its great orations will fall on deaf ears outside the choir of the converted. Ocean Fire rests too comfortably on its aquatic laurels – the small pockets of experimentation are just not enough to make it interesting, and after giving it time to run its course anyone with an itch for outsider sounds can’t help but be disappointed that Sakamoto and Willits didn’t push themselves a little more. There is certainly potential in the music (Sakamoto deftly knows how to contemporize his sound and Willits is more than in tune with the project’s blueprint), but the finished work offers only tiny samplers of what could have been a delicious buffet. Afterwards we’re left feeling hungry for the full meal.

It would be nice if Ryuichi Sakamoto was just some sort of evil genius, fully intending to leave the listener craving something new and revolutionizing, only to throw it at them with his next release. But unfortunately I don’t think such was Sakamoto’s intention, and although his next release might very well be as solid as his soundtrack to The Last Emperor, but I don’t think he’d release something lackluster just to wow people with something good the next time out. Actually, come to think of it, that wouldn’t be an evil genius plan at all, as it’s neither evil, nor genius, but rather just plain stupid… and Sakamoto’s integrity is far too great for a plan that lame. Considering that integrity, I anxiously await any number of releases full of the excellent ideas he has in him, just waiting to come out. In the meantime I’ll sit patiently, Ocean Fire occasionally playing unfocused in the background, while I make up stupid scenarios for evil schemes. Eventually Sakamoto’s genius will happen our way again.

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