Susumu Yokota ‘My Energy’ (Lo/The Leaf)

Subtly stunning tribute to a Japanese master of ambient electronics

The sad news of the untimely passing of Japanese producer Susuma Yokota at the age of just 54 earlier this year reached the music press via a brief statement issued by his family in July. Tributes and testimonials to the one-time house DJ turned laptop composer followed quickly, their ripple effects reminding us of what a singular talent we’ve lost.

The most notable accolade has come in the form of this sampler of Yokota’s sublime work, put together by his two long-time UK record labels, Lo Recordings and The Leaf Label. ‘My Energy’ – a “pay what you can” download mini-album with all proceeds going to Animal Refuge Kansai at the request of Yokota’s family – features selected highlights from the producer’s hugely varied and widely acclaimed output, which began back in 1994 with ‘Acid Mt Fuji’.

It took another six years, however, with the 2000 release of his ‘Sakura’ album, for Yokota to reach a wider audience. Compared to Eno’s finest 1970s recordings, hailed variously as “pretty much flawless” and “powerfully emotional”, and lauded for its sheer physical and intellectual power, ‘Sakura’ was no one-off. Incredibly, more than 30 albums have appeared since then, including a few releases under aliases and the occasional collaborative piece. Most of them are brilliant.

Indicative of Yokota’s prodigious talent was his ability to incorporate so much into his warmly eclectic and exploratory world. From cyclic, Reich-like minimalism and contemplative neo-classicism, to summer-light pastoralism and accessible house music, he always carried things off with delicate, well-judged poise, balancing melodic flights of nuanced keyboard inventiveness alongside more insistent percussively-driven elements. Much of this is showcased on the opener here, ‘Love Bird’ (taken from 2001’s ‘Grinning Cat’), which is the perfect way to start to this impressive selection. Equally beguiling is the wistful, Boards Of Canada-like melancholy of ‘Kodomotachi’ (from ‘Sakura’), a gently cascading beauty of near-devastating bittersweetness.

An environmentalist and animal lover, Yokota’s music is informed and underpinned by a reverence for nature and a strong spiritual sentiment, which perhaps explains the emotionally and historically-charged depth of his references. Sampling the hissy graininess of ancient piano recordings or introducing delicately played strings at several points on ‘Grinning Cat’, for example, grounds his work firmly in classically-rooted Japan, a country he seldom left. But in placing these against the more familiar sounds of programmed beats, digital synth chords or the breathy, half-whispered vocals of Caroline Ross on the lovely ‘Meltwater’ (from 2009’s ‘Mother’), he served up a unique and peerless brand of Nihon-flavoured traditionalism, instinctively infused with the characteristic flavours of western electronica.

The sum of all this amounts to so much more than mere clever juxtaposition, though. Explore Susumu Yokota’s legacy and discover a modern puzzle solved: timeless classical, fuzzy dream pop, hypnotic ambient and dancefloor friendly strands are seamlessly woven together with the deft hand of a once-in-a-generation master, presenting us with quite the life-enhancing gift.

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