Lukas Simonis & Takayuki Kawabata


Even though, at that time, he already had many - and varied - musical experiences under his belt, it was only a few years ago, thanks to the release of Effigies In Cork, the debut album by Vril, that I listened to Dutch guitarist Lukas Simonis for the first time. A "twangy guitar album" in the tradition of the Ventures, the Shadows, and surf music, but brought up-to-date, the work had Simonis - who had penned the tracks - play alongside USA multi-instrumentalist Bob Drake and UK drummer Chris Cutler.

Knowing about his quite varied background helped me more than a bit in order to overcome the initial shock of listening to Stots, a mostly solo album by Simonis (with just a few cello parts played by Nina Hitz) that featured improvisation and tapes, studio work and a certain "rock" flavour, even if for this writer the outcome (which at times appeared to be perfectly aware of the acquisitions of modern "glitch-ism") appeared to be destined to be filed under the "not completely successful experiments" category. (Whether this was due to Simonis not being yet a master of the compositional process, or to this writer not being much in love with climates that for lack of a better word I'll have to call "para-industrial", is an enigma for which readers will have to find their own solution.)

NEWS is a new work, whose ingredients, on the surface, are quite simple. Simonis wrote the music, while Takayuki Kawabata (whose name I have never heard before) wrote the lyrics, which are featured on the CD cover, and also spoken or sung, in Japanese or in English. Simonis plays the guitar, which mostly appears as "sound" (the main exception being an arpeggio sounding halfway between Thinking Plague and Pink Floyd which appears more than once in the track titled Original NEWS), and also "effects", which judging from their timbre to me sounded for the most part as being the fruit of FM synthesis; he also did the studio work and the editing. On this rich background, we have Miki Sugiura on vocals and Kumi Otte Kondo and Nina Hitz on cellos. The (very brief) liner notes also talk about group "improvisations", which didn't add much to my understanding of the music.

The work appears as being quite longer than it really is (about thirty-five minutes), which has to be taken as proof of the material having great variety and density (though textures often have a "light" quality), not as proof of great tedium. It's mostly the vocal parts, I think, that could constitute the main obstacle for those who are not accustomed to this kind of vocal approach; while cellos (arco or pizzicato, very often playing actual melodies), and some recurring melodic arias (the first tracks are almost organized like a suite), will be convenient entry points for the listener. And even those tracks where it's easier to spot the "artificial" in action - for instance, the track titled Remixx - succeed in involving the listener without being too disconcerting.

The paring of female vocals and cello reminded me sometimes of (what for this writer is) the most recent album by Haco, Ash In The Rainbow (by the way: how come it was so underappreciated?), but NEWS - while not being just as good - has its own personality.

I really have no idea about who will possibly listen to this album. Maybe those who are "tired of the same old stuff", or those who find an album where not everything is really in perfect focus (i.e., one hopes he'll do better next time) as something worth investigating all the same.

Beppe Colli

Beppe Colli 2007 | Dec. 16, 2007