Thursday, March 16, 2023

The Cure "Songs of a Lost World" US Tour with The Twilight Sad: May 10 - Jul 1 | "The Darkness of Recent Years has Inspired their 'Merciless' New Album" | NME

Undeniably influential in ways beyond even the tumult of Bauhaus, Joy Division's introspective trudge, the mathic rock of Wire, or the groundbreaking cultural aesthetics of the releases found on parent labels like 4AD or Factory. The Cure are quite possibly the most notable entity to emerge from the whole of the UK gothic rock countercultural microcosm of the late 1970s and early 1980s. No other band from this scene ascended to the heights of both UK and American charts, while fluidly bridging the the concurrent movements of post-punk, gothic rock and new wave to the extent achieved by (the initial trio of) Robert Smith, Michael Dempsey, Lol Tolhurst, (and later) Simon Gallup, Porl Thompson, Boris Williams and Roger O'Donnell. Working in a music that spanned these concurrent sounds and interrelated subgenres, The Cure rose to the top of a wave of underground British acts that formed the directing movement of this tide. There are few better documents of the cultural development of this multi-genre scene than Cherry Red Records' expertly assembled five disc set, "Silhouettes & Statues: A Gothic Revolution 1978 - 1986". Framed within the contextual decade of the sound's evolution as Cherry Red have done, The Cure's characteristics share much with contemporaries at both ends of the genre's spectrum. Their sound listens as concurrently accessible for their new wave pop melodicism, and challengingly post-punk in its sparsity and sometimes dissonant, rhythmic angular underpinnings. Yet this is where the parsing of minutia begins. Within what was essentially a two year span of time, there was to be found a coexistence of the two subgenres after and even concurrent with punk, wherein even formative post-punk bands like Magazine being cited at the time for their gothic sensibilities, such as in Nick Kent's 1979 NME review of their "Secondhand Daylight". The argument in early pieces of cultural ephemera from the era supports that gothic rock emerged from the larger inclusive experimentations of post-punk.

The former was born from the latter as an particular developing offshoot that distinguished itself by weightier, gloaming atmospheres, a heightened theatrical set of fashion and aesthetics, and an embracing of romantic themes and lyrics to be found in the new romantic and pop music's new wave, which followed. Cross-pollination of sounds was the norm in this setting, as genres were being born in rapid succession fomented by the United Kingdom's late 1970s countercultural movement. In this period of class conflict, poverty and social unrest, punk's music of rejection and radical politics gave way to the more nuanced sounds of its first offspring embodied by John Lydon's Public Image Limited, Manchester's Joy Division, and Siouxsie and the Banshees. But even then, the distinguishing characteristics of the genre were blurred, as the half-step that many of these bands would take into new wave and pop could be heard in the output of the early 1980s. The complexity of parsing chronology, and the various band's stylistic signifiers, can be seen in Alex Ogg's review of Simon Reynolds' personal account of the era for The Quietus, "Beyond Rip It Up: Towards A New Definition Of Post Punk?". Yet a more ready representation of the era's cross-genre bleed is epitomized in the sound of Joy Division offspring New Order. Bearing semblance to the more propulsive tracks of their late band, 1981's "Movement" clearly mapped a route away from the musical disassembly of post punk, towards the more melodic and accessible territory of new wave. It is this territory that Belgian band Clan of Xymox would become cartographers of with their signing to 4AD in 1984. A meeting of gothic rock, synthesizer pop and new wave, their sound would come to describe the space between the developing danceable electronic pop of New Order's following album, "Power, Corruption & Lies".

A necessary component in unpacking The Cure's own music at the time, the tangential paths contemporaries took at the time offers insight and contextual framing to their albums "Pornography", the singles anthology, "Japanese Whispers", and "The Top" spanning the years 1982 to 1984. These three works describe the pivotal course The Cure's sound would take at the intersection of the three genres they found themselves working within. The disruption of the band following the Pornography tour, where Simon Gallup temporarily departed, and Lol Tolhurst was to assume the role of keyboardist, saw them take a divergent course away from a heavier, more sparse post-punk aesthetic of the massively influential "Seventeen Seconds", and "Faith" that proceeded it. Over this stretch of years, with The Cure's future uncertain, Robert Smith was to contribute and produce two concurrent albums with Steve Severin. Exploring their shared love of psychedelic rock, their singular venture as The Glove, nestled alongside Smith's playing of guitar on Siouxsie and the Banshees' "Hyæna". Recorded and released within a year of each other, the effect was to culminate in The Cure's fifth studio album as a venture of exploration almost singularly penned by Smith. Often seen as a transitional period for the band, what was to follow was one of The Cure's unconditional masterworks created by the classic, longest-lasting lineup of the outfit; Smith, Laurence Tolhurst on keyboards, Porl Thompson supplying guitar, Simon Gallup on bass, and Boris Williams on drums. This quintet hit the ground running with 1985's "The Head on the Door". In retrospect, these "Masters of the Form: The Cure in 1985", describe the blueprint for what would come to be called the "alternative rock" movement of the early-to-mid 1990s. Named the Album of the Year in Melody Maker's December 1985 chart issue, in another first for the band, "The Head on the Door" was written and composed solely by Robert Smith. Assembled with the intent of an eclectic array of songs and styles, Smith claims its character was inspired by diverse stylistics of the Siouxsie's "Kaleidoscope" album of 1980. 
The album would bridge the brooding post-punk of "Faith" and "Pornography", with their recent pop hits and the singles that proceeded it, making "The Head on the Door" an international charting success for The Cure, and propel them into even wider recognition outside of the UK. The three music videos from the album, "In Between Days", "Close To Me"  and "A Night Like This", were also among their first to ascend to popular video rotation. Often airing during the later night timeslots of the then fledgling MTV, and the North American afterhours variety show Night Flight, their reception at this time foreshadowed and was a significant fomenter in the creation of MTV's underground showcase 120 Minutes, which launched in 1988. MTV, press in the British weeklies, Melody Maker, and the tastemaking writing and focus to be found in NME, all elevated The Cure into previously unforeseen territory where they would chart in the American Top 40 with their following double album, "Kiss Me, Kiss Me, Kiss Me". This was concurrent with the wider accessibility of the 1986 release of the singles anthology, "Standing on a Beach", which was aggressively distributed and promoted in the US by its domestic licensor, Elektra Records. Arriving a year after the release of this abundant and lengthy anthology of The Cure's singles spanning 1978 to 1985, "Kiss Me, Kiss Me, Kiss Me" was not only the band's longest album to date, but also it's most stylistically variegated.

As a double album monument to the throes of teenage love, much in the way of "The Head on the Door", its sprawling length listened as a proportionate mix of rapture, romance and revulsion. At the time Smith himself claiming that the album's third single, “Just Like Heaven” was “the best pop song the Cure has ever done,”. Yet over the course of its nearly 75 minute duration, nearly every track expresses this correspondence of being "a neatly arranged bouquet of roses, or a bag of thorns". The volume and quality on offer is invariably a product of Smith's self-decreed work regiment in which he dedicated 15 days of each month for the year 1986 to music writing. The result being a massive double album, with numerous tracks omitted due to format time limits, one such track, "Hey You!!!", was excised from the original CD release. In the case of the double vinyl LP, the album was presented with an extra six track 12" featuring the songs "Sugar Girl", "Snow in Summer", "Icing Sugar" (Weird Mix), "A Japanese Dream", "Breathe" and "A Chain of Flowers". The 2006 reissues and remaster series producing an even more voluminous and varied body of work related to the album, at the time of the reissue Pitchfork stating; "It's one of the most convincing, emotionally whole, and individual albums of the decade. An entire imagined land, complete with sounds, visions, and styles, huge on romance and drama. If you were only ever to buy one Cure album, and what seems like the whole head of Smith, in one glorious package, this is the one that matters.".

Despite the international success the band was now enjoying, internal friction was increasing due to Tolhurst's alcoholism at the time, and keyboardist Roger O'Donnell was soon hired, with Porl Thompson switching to second guitar on all subsequent studio releases. Their even greater commercial success, on the heels of a sold-out world tour, did little to temper these internal creative issues and Smith's own battling with aging and discomfort with the side effects of becoming a popular music star. Around which time Smith moved to a more remote location in Maida Vale with his then fiancée Mary Poole, and began writing new work which he felt would tackle the existential milestone of his own 30th birthday, and a summation of all things The Cure. He sought to abandon the mood present on "Kiss Me, Kiss Me, Kiss Me", and the pop singles they had released, and rather recreate something akin to a development of the atmosphere found in the band's fourth album, "Pornography". The resulting work, shorn from a total of 32 demo songs written and recorded on a 16-track recorder at Boris Williams home over the course of the summer, would run 12 tracks and mark a return to the more textured and spacious aesthetic the band explored in the early 1980s. As submitted to the American parent label Elektra, the sound was apparently such a shock that the label requested Smith shift the release date back several months. Smith recalled; "they thought I was being 'wilfully obscure', which was an actual quote from the letter. Ever since then I realised that record companies don't have a fucking clue what The Cure does and what The Cure means."

Released on the 2nd of May, 1989, "Disintegration" became the band's first major commercial peak, charting at number three in the UK and twelve in the US charts, with several singles like "Pictures of You", "Fascination Street", and "Lovesong" hitting number two in the Billboard Hot 100 that year. The album is characterized by its increased use and significant placement of the synthesizer and keyboards in its compositions, and slower tempos accompanied by a shoegaze-like guitar tone and drone progressions. These were complimented by a more muted vocal performance from Smith, often immersed in a tide of considerable guitar effects and surrounding spatial compositions, thanks largely to the very distinct production values supplied by David M. Allen. In the years since, the boldness of Allen and Smith's approach to the material has proven forward-thinking, as it predates the sound of many of their British contemporaries of the mid-1990s. Unlike the albums before it, the record bore a single mood, that of a kind of epic, depressive solitude and it revelled in doing so, at times with a majestic grandeur. For an album of such deep introspection, eccentric production qualities and muted dynamics, many now recognize "The Cure's 'Disintegration': An Oddly Comforting Masterpiece" as Jason Heller does for The Atlantic on the eve of the album's 30th anniversary tour. Though Smith later admitted “it was never our intention to become as big as this,” the Prayer tour which followed the album saw The Cure graduating to stadiums and playing marathon, career-spanning sets and in the process, the band found that they had transformed into one of the biggest alternative rock acts on the planet.

In recent years, these massive shows and career-spanning setlists have produced a string of memorable events, highlighted in "The Cure Capture 40th Anniversary Gigs with Concert Films", and waxing lyrical with Rolling Stone about the following set of tours, focused on the 1989 album, "The Cure’s Robert Smith Talks 30 Years of ‘Disintegration’: ‘The Whole Atmosphere was Somber’". In the interview, Smith cast light on the new material the band have constructed in its wake; "At the same time we were rehearsing for the 30th anniversary of Disintegration, we were running through songs for the new album that we’re recording this year. I think that helped the band. It’s certainly helped me light the way. It helped me to see how it was constructed. So it wasn’t done in a purposeful way, but that informed the recording of the new album.". That time has now come, with the new release on the horizon, The Cure began their European tour with the surprise return of guitarist and keyboardist Perry Bamonte, who rejoined the band for the first time in nearly two decades. Over the course of the tour, they premiered five songs from the upcoming album such as “I Can Never Say Goodbye,” “A Fragile Thing”, “And Nothing Is Forever”, “Endsong”, and “Alone”. Speaking with the press ahead of the NME Awards, Smith said the 10-song album is nearly finished, with the aim of releasing it as early as September. He characterized the music on "Songs of a Lost World" as "relentlessly doom and gloom", and elaborated with NME, stating that, "The Darkness of Recent Years has Inspired their 'Merciless' New Album". Proceeding the album's release with a 2023 North American tour of the same name, domestic audiences will finally be able to witness what Europe and Great Britain did last year, "The Cure Live Review: Top Goths Tease their Bleak but Beautiful New Album".

Sunday, March 12, 2023

Skinny Puppy "When Nothing is True... Anything is Possible" Final Tour with Lead Into Gold: Apr 6 - May 9

Following in the wake of punk and early new wave, industrial music culture bore many correspondences to its post-punk and gothic rock siblings, yet defined itself apart for the literal mechanics of its production and aesthetics. Globally a number of epicenters for the sound's earliest expression could be found in Berlin, Chicago, New York, London, and the major coastal cities of California. Most notably and formative for the sound and its culture, the German scene was the initial defining locus. Gathering around the Geniale Dilletanten Festival, and its burgeoning music and performance subculture through efforts largely spearheaded by Wolfgang Müller, the genre's origin immediately expanded outwards to encompass multimedia, performance art, print and literary works. In a span of half a decade, this thriving scene in the margins of the divided city, gave birth to such artists as Einstürzende Neubauten, Die Tödliche Doris, Deutsch Amerikanische Freundschaft, F.S.K., Mania D, Palais Schaumburg, Sprung Aus Den Wolken, Abwärts, and Malaria!. British labels like Some Bizarre, Mute and Throbbing Gristle's own Industrial Records, were concurrently at the epicenter the UK's own cross-pollination of performance, sound, visual art, theater and cultural action. These institutions were born of the contextual cultural moment of Thatcher's England, alongside protests from the labor class and the rise of underground Queer politics. In this environment, a corpus of varied interpretations of the industrial aesthetic and sound could be heard in the music of Test Dept., Coil, Psychic TV, Cabaret Voltaire, Whitehouse and Nurse With Wound. No better map to this decade's cultural continuum of overtly transgressive, (often) occult, outsider industrial music in the United Kingdom exists than David Keenan's "England's Hidden Reverse: A Secret History of the Esoteric Underground".

The American continent saw its own variation on the form later harnessed by label's like Chicago's Wax Trax! Records. Their legacy, beyond just releasing a body of music that bred or came to influence more commercially successful acts of the 1990s, like Nine Inch Nails and Prodigy, Wax Trax! were defined by a then-radical business model. The revival of the label, by the daughter of its co-founder Julia Nash and her partner Mark Skillicorn, came in the heels of their 2017 documentary, "Industrial Accident: The Story of Wax Trax! Records". Again, acting as more than just the setting of a retail record store, and label with an atypical contract process, the environment its founders created a cultural locus of related aesthetics, sounds, values and lifestyles. This setting giving birth to the mid-to-late 1980s electro-industrial sound of Ministry, Meat Beat Manifesto, KMFDM, Front 242, and Controlled Bleeding. Further north, there was an affinity to be had with the concurrent Canadian scene largely released by Nettwerk Records, which issued albums from the influential Vancouver trio, Skinny Puppy, Australia's SPK, Severed Heads, and Toronto's Front Line Assembly. The duo of cEvin Key and Nivek Ogre as Skinny Puppy stood out from this set of artists for its use of an array of live instruments, treated samples, concrete sounds and media collage, as well as incorporating the use of "B-grade horror movie visuals", including fake blood and gore props, into their live performance spectacles. In advance of their very first release they were signed to a label deal with Nettwerk, and were invited to Vancouver's Mushroom Studios to work on the material which would become "Back & Forth". It was here that the group recruited Front Line Assembly's Bill Leeb to co-produce the EP and perform bass synth and backing vocal tracks.

The darkly electro and synth-horror albums, "Bites" and "Remission" would follow, with Leeb leaving in 1986 to pursue his Front Line Assembly project, and his replacement Dwayne Goettel stepping into the fray with, "Mind: The Perpetual Intercourse". This album and its 1987 follow-up "Cleanse Fold and Manipulate" would be the works that would both elevate and cement the Skinny Puppy sound and aesthetic. With graphics created by Nettwerk's in-house photographer and designer, Steven R. Gilmore, the cover art and accompanying music videos featured distorted images from horror films and pornography, news media and television snippets and abstract swathes of degraded printing artifacts and muted, dark color fields. The music would mirror these treatments, with horror movie samples and news media and social commentary dialog, often addressing the band's own fixation on the dehumanizing effects of the military industrial complex, cruelty, and animal rights activism. It was around this time that they enlisted producers to do remixes such as On-U Sound's Adrian Sherwoood for the developing industrial, goth, fetish alternative and countercultural club music scene, many of which were featured on the "Twelve Inch Anthology". A set of more dissonant, socially aggressive, and literal  politically-minded albums followed in 1988 and 1989, with the release of "VIVIsectVI", and "Rabies". With "Too Dark Park" and their final album of what is considered their classic electro-industrial era, 1992's "Last Rights", Skinny Puppy delivered two albums and a set of singles for "Tormentor", "Spasmolytic", and "Inquisition". Exhibiting such a refined and hard-hitting concentration of their sound set on the fringes of the genre, that there was seemingly no new territory left to explore.

After a thirteen year stretch, the band disbanded in 1996 with the release of "The Process" following Ogre's leaving on the eve of its release, and within a few months, Dwayne Goettel's death due to heroin use. Through their numerous side projects and collaborations of the 1990s, the remaining members continued to be active. Most notable among them was cEvin Key, Anthony Valcic, Phil Western, and Mark Spybey's Download project, which expanded their sound into the then thriving electronic music scene informed by labels like Rephlex and Warp Records. After nearly a decade, Skinny Puppy reformed in 2003 with producer Mark Walk and released their ninth album, "The Greater Wrong of the Right". This was followed by three albums in this new mode and configuration and numerous festival appearances, including Download Festival in France, Spain's Primavera Sound, and Leipzig's Wave-Gotik-Treffen. The first of which at the Doomsday festival in Germany, was detailed in, "Ain’t Dead Yet: An Interview with Skinny Puppy" on which Orge recalls; "Afterwards, we felt very energized and healed, putting water under the bridge, like it was a magical journey to get there. After we had done the show, we were sitting on a train to Prague and we said, “That was so much fun, we’ve gotta do some more. Maybe it would be more fun to not just do old, looking-backward shows, but make a new album and see where we would be now”. From this series of one-off festival shows, the current iteration of the band was born, and is now to conclude, with the When Nothing is True... Anything is Possible tour. In typically cryptic fashion for the band, announced as a lyrical stanza; "Withered bE this rope that smothers any hope and banG .. it’s been 40 Years .. ! .. all doGeared by memories formed through memory folds …these fevered dreams so far been told. When nothing is true?".

Saturday, March 11, 2023

True Widow at Substation and Wolves in the Throne Room at Neumos: Apr 21 & 30

The month of April sees two shows in town at Substation and Neumos straddling the heavier end of sounds issuing from the mutating offshoots of black metal. The related global scene's ongoing and burgeoning development have encompassed melodicism and atmospheres lifted from shoegaze and spacerock, eruptions of heavy psych rock, industrial drumming, synth exploration and electronic atmospheres, and pure experimental noise. The expansiveness of this sound is further detailed in Brad Sanders' essential overview, "Untrue And International: Living in a Post-Black Metal World". Beyond this primer, deeper reading and curation from this sphere can be found in the past decade of excellent selections in The Quietus' Columnus Metallicus column, covering releases dominantly sourced from labels like, Hydrahead, Ipecac, Deathwish, 20 Buck Spin, Sargent House, Profound Lore, Season of Mist, Roadburn, Flenser, Neurot and Relapse. The first of April’s shows from this sonic spectrum is heard in the bluesy shoegaze-laden doom of True Widow. With their signing to the Relapse label, the Dallas Texas threepiece refined their sound into a viscous melodic trudge, as featured on the perfect distillation, "Circumambulation". The bluesy guitar and pitched-down dirge would be further accentuated on their following album, "Avvolgere", as well as a development of the detached vocal harmonizing they have seemingly borrowed from The Jesus and Mary Chain. The second of next month's shows features the Northwest's own brand of doom and folk-inflected psychedelia from Wolves in the Throne Room. An advancement of their embracing a true fusion of these sounds can be heard on their newest album "Primordial Arcana" also for Relapse. As detailed in the interview with The Quietus, "Beyond the Darkness: An Interview With Wolves in the Throne Room", their seventh studio album disregards distinctions between their previous metal and ambient characteristics, finding a newly organic, free-flowing hybrid in the process. Breaking down the dichotomy between these two sounds, the album creates an often melodious interplay that washes with an uplifting grace rarely heard in music of this darkness and weight. Joining Wolves in the Throne Room is Marz Riesterer's solo Belgian black metal project Hulder, released on 20 Buck Spin. With her most recent studio full length album, "The Eternal Fanfare", her sound has broadened beyond classic black metal, to encompass pagan folk structures, melodic ambient passages, and a heavier focus on low end oppressive atmosphere.

Sunday, March 5, 2023

Mark Jenkin’s “Enys Men” and “Bait” at The Grand Illusion Cinema: Mar 31 - Apr 11 | "The Beguiling Folk-Horror of Mark Jenkin” | The Guardian

In his five star review for The Guardian, “Bait: One of the Defining British Films of the Decade”, Mark Kermode calls Mark Jenkin's debut feature film "a genuine modern masterpiece, which establishes Jenkin as one of the most arresting and intriguing British filmmakers of his generation". In this vital and authentic tale of tensions between working class locals and tourists in a once-thriving industrial fishing village, the film's evocative portrait of familiar and cultural clashes with modernization, drives a drama where traditional trades and lifestyles are under threat. Concerns which Jenkin mirrors in his interview for The Irish Times, “‘We’re Cornish. We Can Just Have Our Own Culture’”. Building on the promise of his short film, "Broncho's House", which tackles Cornwall's housing crisis, "Bait" found the filmmaker addressing social issues with an experimental and poetic sensibility. Revealed in his proceeding decade of experimental films, "Mark Jenkin Heralds the New Weird Britain", and with a refining technique, he has produced a string of award winning shorts like "The Essential Cornishman", and "The Road to Zennor". These laid the groundwork for his recent feature length films, in them exhibiting an obsession with physical film stock and style that relishes in the chemical and technical accidents, ephemera, and artifacts of home-developed celluloid. As with these short films, "Bait" is shot without sound. Music, effects, and audio are added later, along with Jenkin's own synthesizer score. The effect is dreamlike and disorienting, as the alignments and imprecision of the sound weaves in and out of Daniel Thompson’s layered sound designs. This "Hypnotic Take on Tourists Ruining Cornwall", went on to win best director in Stockholm, both the International Competition Grand Prize, and the Audience Award at the New Horizons International Film Festival, and was the recipient of multiple BAFTA awards.

Featured in the first Seattle screening of his work, "Bait" will be presented as part of The Grand Illusion's yearlong 16mm Centennial Celebration Series, alongside Jenkin's most recent film, "Enys Men". Premiering at last year's Cannes , this "Perfect, Anti-Romantic Expression of Cornish Eeriness" was hailed as one of the festival's hidden gems, and exhibits what Jenkin calls; "a level of abstraction that comes from shooting small-gauge film," he says of his Bolex 16mm camera, "but most of the eerie comes later in the process, how the images bump up against each other and most importantly how the sound works with, and against, the image.” Speaking with The Guardian, the director expresses his favor of oblique narratives, that exhibit uneasy destinations, “‘I Like Films that Take You into the Woods - Then Leave You There’: The Beguiling Folk-Horror of Mark Jenkin”. Which he himself has crafted, in a superb example that embraces such divergent material as the psychological inner workings of Shirley Jackson’s "The Haunting of Hill House", the image juxtapositions and editing seen in the films of Nicolas Roeg, muted tales of haunting shared with the likes of Kaneto Shindo's "Onibaba", and established examples of the 1970's  British folk-horror genre, such as "The Wicker Man". But the abstraction of this "Supremely Disquieting Study of Solitude", evades precise stylistic associations, and its luxuriously saturated cinematic poetry is resiliently resistant to any easy assimilation into genre. As Mark Kermode again states, better to allow this uncanny evocation of how, when left utterly on our own in a isolated place, the mind spirals into memories, dreams and fears, the viewer's imagination enabling, "Mark Jenkin’s Cornish Psychodrama to Sweep You Away".

Thursday, March 2, 2023

Ryuichi Sakamoto releases "12": Mar 31 | "Ryuichi Sakamoto on Life, Nature and Time" | The New York Times

Like many of the composers and electronic musicians of his generation Ryuichi Sakamoto began his creative journey studying composition and the works of his predecessors at university. As explored in the sublime assembly of Japanese interior music on, "Kankyo Ongaku: Japanese Ambient, Environmental & New Age Music 1980-1990", the accompanying essay by Spencer Doran sites that ambient and electronic music in Japan started, much as it did elsewhere, with Erik Satie, Claude Debussy, Marcel Duchamp, Morton Feldman, John Cage and their 20th century contemporaries being taught in university courses attended by these then-young electronic pioneers. By bridging modernist and postmodern modes of composition with the then-concurrent forays into "musical furnishings" supplied by Brian Eno, their ideas about background, modes of attention, functionality, and the abstracting of authorship came to the fore. These were to then intersect with the timing of notable advances in technology. In the hands of this generation of electronic pioneers, hardware manufactured for the consumer market was to meet culture-specific notions of environment and sound. The arrival in the west of this assembly of "Lullabies for Air Conditioners: The Corporate Bliss of Japanese Ambient", as Simon Reynolds points out, couldn't be more perfectly timed. Just in recent years, labels like Palto Flats, WRWTFWW, and Doran's own Empire of Signs have unearthed rare and much sought-after gems, "Telling the Musical History of Japan's Electronic Ambient Era". Concurrent with this era, Ryuichi Sakamoto's own trajectory would see him begin with a burgeoning avant-garde body of work, as chronicled in the first of the Commmons label's anthology series, "Year Book 1971-1979". The following years would see an ascent into instant stardom as Sakamoto was joined by the immense talents of Yukihiro Takahashi and Haruomi Hosono, to form the influential futurist electro-pop outfit, Yellow Magic Orchestra. During this time his ceaseless creativity continued to be poured into numerous solo albums and a developing body of film soundtracks, as anthologized on, "Year Book 1980-1984".

It was during this time that Sakamoto's signature sound was first heard by international audiences accompanying films like Nagisa Ōshima's "Merry Christmas Mr. Lawrence", where the composer had his acting debut starring alongside David Bowie. As well as in Bernardo Bertolucci's 1987 period drama "The Last Emperor", and the groundbreaking independent anime, "The Wings of Honnêamise". It was also during this period in which the composer became a polymath of composition; writing pop tunes, hushed chamber music and jazz, electronic explorations, and his own instantly recognizable voice on the solo piano. By the end of the 1990s, Sakamoto's "Classical and Pop Fusion", came full circle with "1996" a set of chamber music renditions of selections from his discography, the symphonic "Discord" album and its minimalist reflection, "BTTB", an acronym that stood for Back to the Basics. Following these releases, Sakamoto's long-awaited multimedia opera, "LIFE" was performed in 1999, marking the end of the 20th century with one of the most complex and bold projects of his career. Its creation enlisted a cast of over 100 contributors and was the first of the fruitful collaborations with Shiro Takatani, the artistic director of Kyoto's avant-garde theatre troupe, Dumb Type. It would be this sensibility that the composer would mark a trajectory into the 21st century, and along the way, align with some of the most innovative electronic music of the new era. This set of compatriots, collaborators, and sonic adventurers were releasing albums through underground channels like the UK's long-running Touch imprint, Germany's Mego, and the print, video and multimedia house, Raster-Noton. The most fruitful of these meetings would be the albums realized with electronic and experimental guitarist, Christian Fennesz, and a series of sublime piano and electronics albums with digital ultra-minimalist composer, Carsten Nicolai.

The ensuing years have been both prolific, and profoundly trying. In 2014, at age 62, Sakamoto announced that he was diagnosed with pharyngeal cancer, and would be cancelling all future engagements and focusing on recovery and treatment for the foreseeable future. After a protracted time of reduced activity and treatment, "With Cancer in the Past, Ryuichi Sakamoto Returns to His Calling". At the time also offering a series of very personal interviews on life, art and the creative will to engage with nature and existence itself, such as "Ryuichi Sakamoto on Life, Nature and ‘Time’", for The New York Times. Returning to his art, the composer produced one of the more significant collaborative works of his career for the Alejandro G. Iñárritu film, "The Revenant" alongside regular collaborator Carsten Nicolai and Bryce Dessner. Its development mapped by Create Digital Music in their "Sakamoto and Alva Noto again Create Electronics, Scoring Masterpiece", and interviews offered by the two artists. Numerous soundtracks to prestige streaming television and film followed, amassing a quantity which have exceeded his recent album input. The significance and volume of the composer's work for cinema can't be overstated, with recent entries like, “Mubi Notebook Soundtrack Mix: Universal Meditations - The Film Music of Ryuichi Sakamoto”, and interview with The Criterion Collection, "Sonic Memories: A Conversation with Ryuichi Sakamoto", to coincide with the Criterion Channel's "Scores by Sakamoto" showcase. It was around this time that director Stephen Nomura Schible assembled a documentary about the life and work of Sakamoto, entitled "Coda". The documentary followed the composer as he recovers from cancer, resumes creating music and the assembly of his newest album since the diagnosis, "async", all the while re-engaging with political activism through protests around nuclear power, following the Fukushima Daiichi Disaster.

A series of active years followed, as the composer engaged with life, produced new work, even offered the venerable New York restaurant Kajitsu, a soundtrack to accompany the experience, "Annoyed by Restaurant Playlists, a Master Musician Made His Own". In interviews like those offered at the time, "Themes and Variations: An Interview with Ryuichi Sakamoto" for GQ, and "Electronic Pioneer Ryuichi Sakamoto: 'My Great Regret is Not Reconnecting with David Bowie'", for The Guardian, Ryuichi Sakamoto had by all appearances, fully returned from the very edge of life to its social and cultural epicenter. But then in 2021, came the tragic news of a rectal cancer diagnosis. In response, Sakamoto issued another statement making it clear that he intended to continue to make art throughout treatment, "Still, I will continue to work as much as I can during treatment … From now on, I will be living alongside cancer. But, I am hoping to make music for a little while longer”. Currently in stage IV treatment, his outlook has become more pragmatic, in December 2022, "Ryuichi Sakamoto Kept the Music Going with a 'Profound' Concert", yet this latest event came tinged with the acknowledgement that it may be his last public performance. Throughout this time, Sakamoto chronicled his experiences of living with cancer in a monthly column for the literary journal Shincho, titled “How Many More Times Will I See the Full Moon?”, in reference to Paul Bowles’ novel, “The Sheltering Sky”. Over the course of which, he not only produced another collaborative piece as an audiovisual installation by Dumb Type, for the Japanese pavilion at last year's Venice Biennale, but completed his newest studio album "12", for his Commmons label and Milan Records domestically. Released almost concurrently, Milan published their "Tribute to Ryuichi Sakamoto: To the Moon and Back", coinciding with a series of reflections and acknowledgements from a global body of artists hosted by NPR, “As Ryuichi Sakamoto Returns with '12,' Fellow Artists Recall His Impact”. Defying his diagnosis, Ryuichi Sakamoto continues to grace us with his existence and music, “Since I have made it this far in life, I hope to be able to make music until my last moment, like Bach and Debussy, whom I adore,” he wrote in June, when his Shincho column debuted.