Tuesday 1 September 2015


Last we heard from Japanese musicmakers Crystal they had just released their Get It EP on Sound Pellegrino. Comprising Ryota Miyake (aka Sparrows), Keita Onishi and Sunao Maruyama, the trio make collage-like sounds, forward-thinking sonic explorations with retro sensibilities; they've even done VGM-flavoured versions of traditional Japanese songs before – for instance, check out their version of 'Haru no Umi', an ubiquitous song played around New Year in Japan.

Crystal's latest EP Monsoon arrives courtesy of friendly Tokyo-based label, flau – perhaps since music made under Miyake's Sparrows moniker has been previously released by the label. The tracks on Monsoon, says flau, "embody that fun 2D summer feeling with distinct video games aesthetics," and really, this is for the most part an excellent description. The four-track EP contains jostling gems reflecting different facets of summer; there's the delicious horizontal tropical beach feel of 'Low-Pressure', the uptempo billowing fun-fest of 'Typhoon' (sounding a lot like the music from the Bonus Stage in Sonic 2), the manic galloping-tumbling sounds of 'Monsoon', summoning the seeming irrationality, unreasonable heaviness, of a monsoon, with an aesthetic and general feel that reminded me of the music from Dynamite Headdy.

But then there's also 'Midi In The Cloud'.

Rather than focus on different aspects of the weather and its effects, like 'Typhoon', 'Monsoon', 'Low-Pressure', this one instead whisks us up into the sky, into the clouds – true to its name; both in this sense, and in that it paints a picture with predominantly MIDI-leaning sounds. From bubbling, glitchy computer-like noises, the chirrupings of insects and animals in trees, we float higher and higher, up into a contemplative gently soaring atmosphere whilst serenaded by a metallic disembodied voice. Supported by robust foundations of slap bass and swaying-ship bass, and decorated with nuanced bloops jiggling around with portions of steel pan, expansive all-encompassing birds-eye-view string sections provide giant dynamic wings on which we softly fly around the sky. (Imagine if the boat from Super Mario 64 level Rainbow Ride got loose and floated into the big blue of a midday horizon).

The VGM influences here on Crystal's Monsoon EP, given the two games its been compared with above, are not only ever-present, they are subtle. It's not like these are exact copies – they are made with the same spirit; the same desire for the creation of different atmospheres, the use of non-serious, playful sounds, the joy of experimentation outside of regular song structure. The EP artwork, with the Chaos Emerald-esque jewel, the palm tree, the crystal rods and spheres of rain, the skewed crossing, tells a similar story — combined with the sound, this music stands not exactly between fantasy and reality, but more firmly in the former, still with eyes trained on the real world as if it were the true oddity in the twoness of our modern day existence.

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