Low Company presents Yuta Matsumura’s Red Ribbon, a sequence of introspective, lavishly melodic dream-songs and amphibian atmospheres recorded in scattered periods over 2018-21. Having played in bands like Low Life, M.O.B. and Orion, and the duo Jay & Yuta (with Jay Cruikshank), Red Ribbon is Matsumura’s first solo outing, and represents a conscious effort to move away from guitar-based songwriting. He composed its nine tracks mostly on piano - layering vocals, bass, keyboards, flute (courtesy of Maeve Parker), violin/cello (Laurence Quinn) and clacking drumbox rhythms into dynamic, dubwise avant-pop structures which are supple and spacious but fizzing with detail and vivid inner life.
The laconic 4/4 pulse, heat-warped synth-tones and haunting vaporous melodica of opener ‘Box Garden’ set the tone: its surreal psychedelic patternings barely concealing a deep sting of longing and regret. The cryptic lyrics suggest chance encounters, hidden logic, missed opportunities, fatalism, serendipity. A city submerged: everyone else paused mid-movement, while you’re allowed to swim free and fish-like through the streets, over the rooftops...‘Tangled Orchid’ is a tense night-drive through dry desert heat and into the unknown, running away from your old life, chased down by dust-devils of half-baked schemes and abandoned plans, while ‘Myth Machine’ drops the tempo and something mind-altering, guiding us on a tripped-out dubdisco scuba among alien flora and fauna, a world of impossible shapes and sensations. At which point, the mood of the album decisively shifts, firstly with ‘Sake No Otoh’, sung in Japanese by Haruka Sato: an instant-classic, breathtakingly intimate lover's lament that sounds like it got lost on its way to heaven and is now doomed to orbit the earth forever.
The songs that follow continue in this more confessional, imploring mode. As if the travelling's done, the baggage has been cast off, and we’ve arrived at our destination, where the real process of rebirth and repair can begin. The music’s textures become less overtly dubby and electronic, with more of an organic, earthy, chamber-pop/avant-folk feel, at once sad and hopeful-sounding. Three songs in particular bear the influence of Eno’s 70s work (and its mutant bedsit offspring Lifetones, Flaming Tunes, etc): ‘‘E. Potential’, where baroquely chorused vocals - half-agonised, half-beatific - teeter on top of simple oscillating piano loops, and the stately, dawntreading ballads ‘Tabula Rasa’ and ‘No Sleep For Birds’. The bulk of the album was made prior to lockdowns and all of that; its themes of reset, self-examination, the need to f**k it all off and take spiritual stock, are timeless. Though they perhaps have a more bittersweet resonance now the world has returned 4 pretty much to how it was, only worse.