Embers is Akira Kosemura's original soundtrack to Junpei Matsumoto's film of the same name. Written, arranged, and produced by the Tokyo-based Kosemura (b. 1985), the recording's settings are performed by the composer on piano, violinists Sayuri Yano and Tomoko Joho, violist Shiori Tanaka, and violoncellist Masutami Endo. Embers isn't, by the way, the first time Kosemura has composed music for another artist's production, as Manon, the score he created for a ballet, appeared in 2012.
In one clear sense, Embers appears to be much like the typical film score in that it features nineteen short pieces—vignettes of one- to two-minute durations in most cases—that one could easily imagine accompanying film scenes. As one might expect, his neo-classical score is delicate in character (“Recall” a good representative example) and the rendering of it by the piano and string quartet refined. “Opening Title,” with its simple yet graceful piano melodies, acts as a suitably wistful tone-setter for the equally affecting pieces such as “Embrace,” “Letter,” “Monologue,” and “Truth” that follow. A few, such as (not surprisingly) “Root of Evil” and “Chaos,” are shaded with darkness, but most exude an air of hopefulness. Though many track titles are single words only, reading them in their presented order suggests a story-like narrative involving dramatic emotional contrasts.
If there's a general mood, it's wistful, and much of Kosemura's elegant soundtrack is suffused with nostalgia. Many settings feature the composer's restrained piano playing only, a move that serves to strengthen the melancholy mood. Par for the soundtrack course, melodic themes re-appear in slightly varied form (i.e., tempo and arrangement), becoming familiar motifs in the process; one lilting melody in particular is voiced so often it becomes the soundtrack's signature theme. What most distinguishes the thirty-four-minute soundtrack, of course, is Kosemura's music, which, anything but generic, has his stylistic fingerprints all over it.
One year after the release of Drama, Nao Kakimoto (b. 1987) re-emerges with Water's Edge, his fourth collection under the [.que] moniker. A tad more expansive than its folktronic predecessor, the new album sees the Osaka-based musician-composer threading field recordings of the seacoast into all eight of its compositions. Reinforcing the nostalgic character of the material (and titles such as “Summer Memory” and “Homeward”) is the fact that said recordings were gathered at locales that have personal significance for Kakimoto: Uchizuma Beach in Tokushima Prefecture (his hometown), Shodo Island in Kagawa Prefecture (where he visited an art festival in 2013), and so on. Like Embers, the track titles of Water's Edge imply a narrative trajectory that involves Kakimoto traveling to his hometown, musing carefreely as day turns into night, and then returning to his current life.
Kakimoto shows his multi-instrumentalist chops by playing everything on the recording, which presents a soundworld rich in acoustic guitars, piano, melodica, and electronic beats. The mix of field recordings and acoustic guitar playing imbues the opening “Departure” with a pastoral folktronic feel, even if the insistent rhythmic pulse and wordless vocalizing that soon join in lend the song a more dynamic character than the folktronic norm. There's a joyous quality to the piece and the one following it (“Halfway”) that suggests the traveler in this case is eagerly looking forward to the hometown visit. If “Summer Memory” is buoyed by the presence of sunny piano patterns, joy turns into nostalgia during “Wave” when the song's uplifting keyboard melodies are joined by the plaintive tone of a melodica. Elsewhere, the classic folktronica of “Homeward” rubs shoulders with the iridescent reverie “See You.”
If there's a weakness to the album, it's that the field recording content is sometimes featured too prominently; a more effective presentation would have involved the water sounds appearing within a given track as a subtler, even subliminal element. As far as weaknesses are concerned, however, that's hardly a crippling one. Similar to Embers, Water's Edge is modest in length at thirty-three minutes, yet its mini-album status doesn't diminish the listening pleasure afforded by the collection.