Pawn – Islet EP
To anybody familiar with Hideki Umezawa’s work as Pawn, his music is some of the most instantly recognizable in electronic music. A few things make Hideki’s work standout: his use of glass harp, his almost glitchy approach to editing field recordings, his delicate piano work. The term micro-minimalism has often been applied and with good reason: everything about this feels small and fragile. On this latest release for Drifting Falling, ‘Islet’ collects some of Pawn’s works between 2007-2009, and in places we see a refinement of his approach, while in others we see a developing of a few new ideas.
Album opener “Nap in Bed” begins with the sound of a single chord repeated and sustained to the point of decay over and over. The key to Hideki’s sound is how he layers other sounds around whatever is up front. The background is often the key and here we get: the sound of children’s voices, a gentle piano melody, and what sounds like tape hiss creating an almost rhythmic beat. It’s a lovely piece to intro the album and relies on usual Pawn trademarks but refines them a little by letting the piece breathe – it’s less busy. It’s a testament to a great artist when they can strip away their sound and find something fundamental, and that’s what we get with this one minute thirty second intro.
Second piece “Untitled” is built around Hideki’s lovely piano work. Again, if you strip all the background work away you would be left with a lovely piece for solo piano. Hideki relies on various field recordings, which are, as is often the case with his work, sounds from everyday life taken from within the home. There’s a definite thesis to Hideki’s work and it is found in his constant referencing in those sounds taken from everyday modern life – tea cups clashing against a saucer, water running, the hum of an air conditioner- that he is able to reveal this agenda. The approach he takes to each layer is often sparse, relying on a collusion of sounds rather than a static approach to song writing –as if he is exploring each piece as it unfurls rather than pre-planning a trajectory.
“Mistletoe” is even sparer in its approach, almost lacking a central foreground instrument to drive the song. Rather, it is a sparse affair of almost unrecognizable sounds. The glass harp sounds most prominent and the guitar work sounds fragmented. The overall feel of the song is the auditory equivalent of sunlight bleeding through a tree line overhead.
Then we get “Fall In”, a high-pitched, almost drone-like piece – something new for Hideki. We get the sound of rattling plates and cups, more birds, water flowing, what sounds like angelic voices creep in here and there. It’s a more unsettling piece. It’s a different side to Hideki’s work but also feels like a natural extension.
Then the album closes with “Micro, Sink” an older piece already included on the Kitchen EP. Although referred to as a ‘collected early works’, something about the inclusion of “Micro, Sink” feels like a miss-step. It’s a wonderful piece but not necessarily fitted to this collection.
‘Islet’, at only 20 minutes, does in some ways feel a little bit thrown together; there is no real narrative to the piece and narrative is such a big part of what Pawn does. Works like “Kitchen” and “Hum of the Library” took sounds from the places their titles referenced and used them as a premise for an album. An EP is a tricky thing and for a guy that does them so well, ‘Islet’ feels like it’s lacking something. However, if you’re looking for a few great songs in no particular order you could do far worse than ‘Islet’.
Available through Drifting Falling as a limited 3” cdr, and digital formats April 26.
– Review by Brendan Moore for Fluid Radio