Those dismayed by James Blackshaw’s recently-announced hiatus should be cheered by the arrival of another purveyor of emotive finger-style guitar minimalism: Japanese artist Naoyuki Arashi, who records as ASUNA. While Arashi largely works in the tones ‘n’ drones department, both of the tracks on his new record Tide Ripples open with guitar work in the same hypnotic vein as the UK guitar maestro, with slowly-unfolding harmonic progressions and driving, insistent finger-picking.
Like many of the artists on Japanese label Home Normal, Arashi’s music is best when it’s at its most pared-down. The guitar figures on opener “Her Fringe, Ferris Wheel, Ruins of Twisted Yarn” plow onward prettily, joined by a far-away accordion, and gradually accruing several layers of grayish sonic murk. The sweet spot comes at the transitional moment between sections, when an austere tone slowly floats in. Likewise, Arashi’s decision to stick to a single guitar phrase for the first half of the 20-minute “Midnight Snow, Street Lights, Window of Empty Building” pays off in its irresistibly heady effect, coming off like a minimalist take on acid folk.
Composed over a period of 10 years, these sound collages feel like they’re actually a number of sketches soldered together, as the vignette-like track titles suggest. Fans of Philip Jeck and William Basinski will find much to enjoy in ASUNA’s amorphous sound treatments. This is a fine album for staring out to sea on a grey day.