The Tokyo Isolation Chamber: On the Banks of the Arakawa
Rednetic Recordings

On the Banks of the Arakawa is said to have been inspired by the works of Move D, Susumu Yokota, Laurie Anderson, Ryuichi Sakamoto, and even William Burroughs, but to The Tokyo Isolation Chamber's credit, the outfit's debut collection largely sounds like nothing else but itself. The group is the brainchild of Joseph Auer, who along with Kris Derry (aka Z-Arc and also Auer's partner in Vermillion Gaze) plays synths on a forty-two-minute album that also features Clive Burns (Lowriders Deluxe) and Kentaro Togawa (Hopeless Local Marching Band) on guitars plus spoken word and field recording contributions from an enigmatic entity identified as Supernova1987.

On the Banks of the Arakawa is somewhat of a concept album with Auer presenting its “subjective subconscious journey” as a time-based travelogue that begins at workday's end at Tokyo Station and carries on across the Sumeida River, into the southern Koto industrial warehouses, and on to industrial bridges that cross the Arakawa river. In Auer's words, the album attempts to relay “an impression of the deep nocturnal sounds of the industrial heartland within the Tokyo metropolitan region.”

Truth be told, all such programmatic detail can be set aside as the music holds up fine on sonic grounds alone, especially when Auer and company have created something fresh and original by augmenting their music's heavily synthetic soundworld with the crystalline textures of the guitar. It's a combination that gives the opening track “Lights on the Arakawa” an appealingly iridescent sparkle and helps elevate other luscious settings, too, such as “Variation in Grey” and “Neon Dissadents” [sic]. Elsewhere, organ-like tones lend “Disappearing World” a church-like ambiance, even if chiming keyboard patterns and icy synth flourishes are on hand to nudge the material into a less fixed locale. Though the album veers between meditative ambient (“Transfixed,” “Forget Eternity”) and rhythm-charged pieces (“Senkawa Night,” “Appearing World”), its music generally exudes a sleek, hi-tech gleam no matter the differences in track styles (the grime-coated, spoken word soundscape “Tethered” an exception). Adding to its appeal, there's a sense of unpredictability about it, with one never knowing where exactly the next track will lead or in which stylistic garb it will present itself.

If there's a weak point to the album, it's the vocal effects that, while they do give the tracks on which they appear (e.g., “Silent Hymn of the Salarymen”) a distinguishing character, prove to be more distraction than enhancement. Put simply, the music wouldn't suffer from their omission and if anything might be all the better for it. But as the vocals play a minor part in the overall scheme of things, their presence doesn't undermine the project to any crippling degree. International DJ magazine has described Rednetic's material as “(t)he subtle marriage of the adventurous with the accessible,” and that actually comes close to capturing On the Banks of the Arakawa, too. It's certainly adventurous in its own way, but easy to warm up to as well.

April 2014