When Ryuichi Sakamoto returned to record shelves last year with async, after a frightening bout of throat cancer, there was a sense of relief that he was back making beautiful music. We were grateful to have a wonderful new recording — more than that, we were thankful to not have lost another hero.
None of us imagined that just ten months later we would be mourning the loss of a Sakamoto colleague — a great artist in his own right — 18 years his junior. Jóhann Jóhannsson's untimely passing on February 9 will only deepen our feelings about the original project and this new release async Remodels.
Milan Records invited 11 electronic music producers to reinterpret seven of Sakamoto's works. The reverence with which Sakamoto is rightfully held is all over async Remodels. It begins with the spine-tingling piano solo from "andata," which Oneohtrix Point Never begins to manipulate less than a minute in. Like all of the material here, the rework is respectful, but not slavishly so. These are neither covers nor remixes.
We get a second take on "andata" next, from Canada's Electric Youth. The synthpop beat the duo drops under Sakamoto's melody is Yellow Magic Orchestra good. It may be the album's best track.
We also get two takes on "solari." Jóhannsson's version ramps up the mysteriousness of Sakamoto's original, a poignant end to a brilliant career. Fennesz reimagines the piece completely, bathing it in a wash of noise. Both are excellent in completely different ways.
Everything works here, in its own unique way. Longtime partner Alva Noto delivers a more purely ambient version of "disintegration" that will appeal to purist electronic music fans in ways the original track didn't.
There's one additional noteworthy contribution. Stranger Things soundtrack makers Michael Stein and Kyle Dixon are here with their S U R V I V E mates to add their patented creep appeal to one of the original's masterpieces, "fullmoon." This is the track that features a clip from Bernardo Bertolucci's The Sheltering Sky (which Sakamoto scored): "… we get to think of life as an inexhaustible well. Yet everything happens a certain number of times, and a very small number, really … How many more times will you watch the full moon rise? Perhaps 20. And yet it all seems limitless." S U R V I V E stick closer to the original recording than do others on the album, but it's still recognizably theirs.
It's sadly fitting that Jóhannsson's passing coincides with the release of async Remodels. As one of the founders of Kitchen Motors, he helped facilitate a number of collaborations. And of course he was no stranger to partnerships himself. He was paired with Marc Almond on the aforementioned Stranger Things disc. He worked with Hafler Trio, Barry Adamson and others. He will be sorely missed. (Milan)