Guitar: Tokyo

When I heard that Tokyo, Michael Lückner's sophomore Guitar outing (not counting the Japan-only, Bluegrass(!)-styled Honeysky), would pay homage to the city by including Kotos and Pipas, I imagined a delectable merger between traditional instrumentation and the Spectorish wall of shoegaze sound presented on Sunkissed (Morr Music, 2002). Well, first things first: Tokyo doesn't align with that expectation. Though Kotos and Pipas are prominent, for the most part Lückner has replaced Sunkissed's MBV guitar roar with a comparatively more restrained style, specifically languorous hip-hop (“Ayako,” “Akiko”). But after expectations are pushed aside and Tokyo is broached on its own terms, how does it hold up? Generally speaking, quite well, thank you very much.

The opener “Sunday Afternoon at Tamagawa River” is particularly splendid. After an arresting intro of harp strums, Koto, and soft hand percussion, Lückner subtly modulates the composition's development by adding crisp beats and then piano, slowly building the sound without losing its breezy character; elsewhere, downtempo breaks underpin the sharp pluck and thrum of Pipa playing on “Naoki” and the dramatic “Red & White.” While the album is primarily instrumental, three songs feature the singing of Ayako Akashiba (whose vocals also graced Sunkissed). On the mellower tip, her silken whisper floats over piano ostinati and oscillating shimmer in “Tokyo Memory” while “Wash Me Away” embeds her gossamer tones within smeared haze. Only in the penultimate song “Sakura Coming” does the new release resurrect Sunkissed's grandiose attack, with a guitar sound so huge it nearly swallows Akashiba whole.

To his credit, Lückner never lets his stylistic merger lapse into kitsch. Still, a little bit more intensity to offset its occasional New Age prettiness wouldn't have been unwelcome. As lovely as “Sunday Afternoon at Tamagawa River” is, for instance, it's hard not to contemplate how much more stunning it would sound if it were to escalate to a euphoric climax.

March 2006