Ichiko Aoba – Sketch tour tape
5.4.23 by Matty McPherson
Not too long ago a bizarre (in a complimentary way) video emerged. One featuring a young woman, Ichiko Aoba, playing a festival in Europe backed by the post-Ants configuration of Black Country, New Road. The entire thing looked like a fever dream, or in the case of rym denizens, a wet dream. For on one hand, this whole thing is baffling; a real case of 21st century internet communities having their cake and eating it in the form of a dream collaboration that only a select few even saw in person. Yet on the other hand, that this entire thing exists is undeniably pretty and moving. So few opportunities for something as otherworldly like this to exist happen; even with the connections of internet and new generations of tastemakers. Truthfully though, one’s choice in flannel or one’s adherence to trolling new music lists may long term create such circumstances that end up leading to any kind of western recognition and touring capacity for artists ranging from Aoba to Parannoul.
The resounding performance of Aoba, whose focus on acoustic guitar and piano keys, acoustic fables and stories outside of regular time and place (landing closer to a folksy ghibli world), lends itself beyond her immediate intimacy. This folk can scale with immense finesse if the right backing (chamber) band happens to present itself–as BCNR proved rather distinctly. When she played Big Ears at the St. John’s Cathedral to a full audience, the back half of her set featured four women on violin and other stringed instruments providing that sublime chamber energy. Watching Aoba with her backing band, I felt back in Escondido, watching bunnies leap over the greenery that’s emerged from a hectic el niño. There is something absolutely otherworldly about her capacity for naturalism the silent rumination that powers her work and converts a listener one by one.
It’s also known that because Aoba self-releases most her music and has an immense online fan community, her albums become hot collector commodities. Only Ba Da Bing has seemed to take any note of issuing her material in the US, and yet Windswep Adan/Adan No Kaze remains only a double LP on its 3rd pressing, with no CD or tape edition. Cool! Such things often end with me creating blindspots instead of downloading. So, when I walked in to see her Big Ears performance, I was not anticipating that she’d have a merch booth with a limited 500 copy “Sketch” tour tape. One that currently remains unlisted on Discogs, without a torrent on Soulseek, and only about 3 folks on RYM that appear to know it exists and have listened. Make me the fourth I suppose. And also let me put my hat in the ring here to join the chorus of “Ichiko Aoba makes fantastic music that we should cherish” with a resounding grin.
Taken in first during a delirious jet-lagged capacity coming out of SAW II looping, “Sketch” has quickly become one of my favorite listens of 2023. This is owed not as much to the exclusivity of the tape itself, as much as the raw power and trust Aoba has in her lo-fi set-up resonating an astounding everydayness to her recordings. The tape is split into two side long recordings: A side’s “sea horse” (she uses images for the release) is piano improv that seems to hint at a recording of “Seabed Eden,” a one-off single precursor to her 2020 release, near the end. Meanwhile, Side B’s “garden snake” actually features recordings of “hello” & “asleep among endives” and then another round of increasingly ethereal and warped piano looping and water noises. On paper, this 20ish minutes really could be nothing. Merely a stopgap or small holdover for the heads. Yet, Aoba really understands her space and silence, and uses the tape more or less to reintroduce her capacity for recording and just see what comes from a day of work. It is simply, music to stare out at the yard to; music to do the dishes to; music that you take in all the details of a room at 11:11 to. What a heavenly surprise.
As I sat with the release I’ve come to note that it reminds me of a staggering body of work. On one hand are Dan Melchoir or Ross Hammond, private press folk maestro’s that follow their thoughts to brilliant endpoints. The other hand includes Jessica Pratt and Wendy Eisenberg, who’s early recordings also treated the fidelity as a tool to presenting their own worlds and tales outside typical boundaries. Aoba is of her own accord as all these mavericks are, especially on the b-side. Her two originals recorded on this tape just feel like they could have been on On Your Own Love Again as a moment outside Pratt’s own lost wisdom. Still, as she moves beyond chord change improv towards loop manipulation that would not have been out of place on Pizza Night many moons prior. Her mic’ing that captures the patter of keys, the extra thump of pedal, and a voice that lowly croons knows exactly what the fuck its doing even if it wants to call itself a “sketch.” It evokes just how punchdrunk and out-of-body this kind of recording process, when treated as a sincere treat instead of a gimmick, can be.
What a resounding and deeply resonant sketch for spring, to say the least.
Find it at the next Ichiko Aoba show in Europe. Or on discogs in 5 months for exorbitant costs. Or on Bandcamp if and when it ever shows up.