Susumu Yokota Grinning Cat

"The everyday life with cats is like a fairytale," writes Japanese producer Yokota, in reference to the background to Grinning Cat. The lead up to Susumu's fifth album in three years for UK label Leaf included a move out to the less crowded suburbs and into a new home with his girlfriend and three cats. He credits their collective parties with creating a fairytale-like atmosphere. No doubt, the vibe this album achieves is no small feat - even more fanciful than previous Yokota work. Fact is, one never knows what to expect with Yokota - his music has been experimental, house, chill, frenzied, but always good. Last year's Sakura won great praise from critics and fans alike and became Leaf's best seller to date. Grinning Cat ups the ante, seemingly effortlessly. Here the influence of jazz, ambient soundscapes and classical music (think Reich and Eno on a swing) is more pronounced, with the work being playfully experimental and filled with both melodies and smiles. The delicate, touching "Imagine" leads to the whimsical, dream-like and heavily textured "King Dragonfly," where childlike piano and quirky beats run amok. "Cherry Blossom" makes me think of moody, German electronic acts from the early '80s having a pleasant play, with hand claps, piano and a grittier production resulting in a song that climbs inside against all odds. Hand claps resurface on the more simple and sparse "Love Bird," while "Flying Cat" is quintessential Susumu Yokota. One senses that the man had great fun with this; strings form both backbone and punctuation, the feel is frenetic while the bass line keeps it calm, and when the percussion kicks in, we're utterly snared. Completely compelling, as is the entire album. (Leaf)