Aoki Takamasa – 28

Aoki Takamasa and Tujiko Noriko met at an event for The Cartier Foundation in Paris in 2002 and began working together on a single track. They hit it off so well they decided an album-length collaboration was in order. Unfortunately, at the time Aoki was living in Osaka while Tujiko resided in Paris, so they had little time for the project. Fortunately for us, they followed the same path as Ben Gibbard and Jimmy Tamborello of The Postal Service, swapping musical ideas through the mail. 28 is the culmination of three years worth of the duo swapping audio files on CD-Rs, and it is well worth the wait. But seeing that neither one is a heavyweight in the American indie or electronic scene, it will probably not meet with the same success as TPS’s Give Up, but it should at least please fans of sonically adventurous electronic music with glossy female vocals.

28, named after the age shared by both artists, is a collection of lush, ambient electronic pieces, bolstered by looped beats and carried by Tujiko’s rich voice. It’s Tujiko’s powerful and radiant voice, breathy intonations, and multi-tracked harmonies that provide the melody to Aoki’s layered and subtley shifting wallpaper of electronics, keyboard loops, and crisp bass booms. The way Tujiko uses her voice – like a combination of Björk, Múm’s Kristín Anna Valt Sdóttir, and Lali Puna’s Valerie Trebeljahr – is captivating and attention-grabbing. And you don’t have to worry about the lyrical content detracting from the music, as Tujiko coos mostly in her native Japanese, adding an element of intrigue that enhances the overall experience.

This is not ambient electronic music intended for the background, but electronic music ambient in structure with no verses or choruses. These compositions are multi-textured electronic soundscapes that develop tunefully, with the vocals carrying the burden of melody, turning these pieces into songs. The sound production and mixing are immaculate, with crystal clear clicks and clacks and reverberating bass snaps that sound even better at high volume.

The first two tracks, “Fly 2” and “Vinyl Worlds,” are both engaging tunes with their Lali Puna-like cool, electro-looped beats, clicky percussion, and dreamy vocals. “Fly Variation” and “Alien” take this formula a step further by adding smooth bass lines and multi-layered keyboard textures with perfectly placed blips and bleeps. But again, it’s Tujiko who takes these tunes to the next level with her sensual vocalizations that give Björk a run for her money. The few tracks in between are not as melodic and tend to meander along aimlessly, trapped in keyboard loop variations with a bit of over-zealous knob twiddling, although never abrasively, while Tujiko attempts to turn these tunes into sweet electronic lullabies with varying degrees of success.

At it’s best, 28 mesmerizes and dazzles with intricate and warm electronic foundations adorned with creative keyboard washes, deep bass licks, and ethereal vocals that will melt your ears. At worst, the luster is dulled as the snaps, crackles, and pops become the focus to sauntering looped backgrounds, but never to the point of annoying. Hopefully it won’t take Aoki Takamasa and Tujiko Noriko three more years before they indulge us again, since this debut contains enough choice music to make it quite engaging.