Album Review: Sentimental Scenery – There Is Nowhere Else in the World
How do you express a season musically? Sure, it’s been done before. Vivaldi might have something to say about it, for instance. But that doesn’t mean it’s easy to do or even to explain – how do we capture the essence of something so nebulous, so immaterial, if there even is one? Is it meaningful to do so? Sentimental Scenery, now Korea’s most prominent name in electronica and fresh from the magnum opus that was Soundscape, tackles these issues with a winter-themed project album in There Is Nowhere Else In The World. Let’s get one thing straight: if you could pick anyone to embark on a project like this, you’d pick this guy.
“But wait,” you say. “A winter album? In March?” Aha, but you see, this album actually came out in late January. “Still, a winter album? In late January?” And you would have a point. It’s important to remember that this not a Christmas collection; it’s a winter collection. At times they’re synonymous, but Nowhere Else makes clear that there is a distinction.
Nowhere Else‘s winter is often tranquil. A gentle piano breeze caresses intro track November, as if in transition; meanwhile, a barely audible snare and cymbal steadily march across fields of mellow chords in 9 Hours. Speaking of fields, Snowy Fields‘ broad, ponderous synths echo and expand across a cavernous space, and beats break down, merge, and flow into each other like melting snow in Unconscious.
But winter isn’t all quiet and peaceful like that. To be more exact, winter carries with it certain emotions that aren’t necessarily tranquil at all. Lead single View captures that emotion very precisely. The modern-rock number is at once the album’s most energetic and the most deviant from Sentimental Scenery’s usual style. The primary melody is very bold, powered by a Hans Zimmer-esque barrage of thunderous toms and sweeping guitar sustains. It’s brimming with hope and excitement, effortlessly gliding between ambitious build-ups and magnanimous climaxes. There is anticipation and giddiness here, refreshment and renewal, a sense of beginning.
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This is incisive. Sentimental Scenery goes right to the heart: what is it that makes winter, winter? Beyond the pretty imagery, there is some fundamental emotional connection that many of us make with this season, and the artist extracts at least one subset of that connection (hope, renewal, anticipation) in View. He does it again in Beautiful Dream, which is perhaps the best track on the collection. The theme here is harder to pin down; a prominent bass line and punchy drums lead into a complex, amalgamated mass of sound after picking up some acoustics, shrilly bells, synth pads, and layered piano. And that elusiveness actually seems to be the point of this track. The cryptic bass and dreamy piano, coming together in that gorgeous melody, alludes to a confused, turbulent state of mind. The track ends with a clear sense of uncertainty – there isn’t quite the sort of denouement expected. It’s almost a thematic antithesis of View, although the track is too alive for me to say that with confidence.
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In this way, Sentimental Scenery peels back layer after layer of the wintry season. Notable is this collection’s complete lack of vocals: the artist did cut down greatly on his own singing in Soundscape already, but there is nary a featured vocalist that used to add so richly to his worlds. That fits with Sentimental Scenery’s commitment to eschew imagery as much as possible, in favor of abstraction. Instead, his toolkit of sounds has expanded dramatically: while intricate, sensitive piano performances still dominate Nowhere Else, atop the usual shibuya-style electronica fare he also makes extensive use of band instruments and drums. Modern- and post-rock sounds as those in View and Genesis would have been unimaginable for him before, but here they are. These tracks achieve a grandiosity reminiscent of what he began to show in his last album, as well as a warmth not found there.
Looking back at the track that he’s taken in recent years – Harp Song to Sentimentalism to Soundscape – Sentimental Scenery continues to impress with versatility. In each release he’s shown a renewed effort to be separated from that horribly applied umbrella label of shibuya-kei. I think There Is Nowhere Else In The World is where he finally achieves that for good. This is a very good genre album that engages its topic in an interesting way, and also an exercise in unceasing sound experimentation. Great stuff to see – and hopefully it means the Free Tempo comparisons will stop.
Tracklist (recommended tracks are listed in bold)
3. The First Noel
4. Beautiful Dream
6. These Moments
7. 9 Hours
8. White Out
9. Snowy Field
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