Wednesday, 18 January 2012

Review: Hiroshi Watanabe - Sync Positive

Hiroshi Watanabe Sync Positive
Hiroshi Watanabe is one of those producers who you've almost certainly heard of at some point or another. His most famous alias is Kaito, releasing what we are obliged to call "neo trance" on Kompakt Records, the trendiest of uber-trendy German labels, but he's had a billion other aliases and done soundtrack work for videogames and animé and stuff. He's the kind of name a lot of people take for granted. Yeah, he releases a lot of good stuff but he's just Hiroshi Watanabe. You don't have to follow his career because you know he's out there and always releasing music, so you can just have an occasional listen without feeling you've missed out on much.

Perhaps that's because most of his music sounds pretty similar: extremely soft and generally extremely happy melodic techno, which frequently uses endlessly pulsing rhythms and repetitive melodic motifs in a way remniscent of trance, or at least the idealised conception of trance, divorced from the Euro-shlock or hippy-trip of the real thing. Generally my problem with Watanabe, particularly when operating as Kaito, is that his music is just completely unerringly happy. Not only do all the tracks sound fluffy and dreamy and warm, but every single sound in every single track is warm and glowy and happy as well. Listening to any of his albums all the way through generally ends up feeling like you're drowning in candyfloss.

To an extent, this complaint still applies to Sync Positive. There are moments, particularly on Sleepless Dream, where I felt my teeth rotting inside my mouth from the sugar content of the music. However it must be said that Watanabe has tempered his instincts a little here and there are a few tracks that are better than anything I've heard from him before. The opening track Days is a good example, with a burbling acid riff that is a little edgier and ravier than you'd expect to hear, and thus provides a nice counterpoint to the soaring piano melody. This is still a very cheerful album, as you'd expect from something called Sync Positive that has a picture of a fairground on the cover, but there is at least some variety and contrast here, exemplified in the track Happiness Sadness, which sounds both happy... and sad!

I'm sure ardent Watanabe fans will point out dozens of examples from his discography where he's done all of this before, but I've never been taken with his work enough to hear everything he's done. The thing about Watanabe is his sound doesn't quite fit in anywhere - it's probably closest to techno, but only by process of elimination. Really it's just danceable melodic electronic music, in a sound he has largely made his own. This is actually a really good album - it's the kind of thing I've always wanted to hear from him, but haven't until now. And seriously, some of these tracks are fucking killer, which more than makes up for the occasional overly saccharine moment. I don't think Watanabe is pushing his sound far enough to really make this a classic (and no, dipping into downtempo female-wail on the closing track isn't experimental, it's just an unwanted flashback to 2001), but it's still an extremely solid and fulfilling album from someone who is an extremely good musician and producer, just not always a daring and sophisticated artist.

Genre: Melodic techno
Stupid Arbitrary Rating: 8/10

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