Review: Ai Aso – The Faintest Hint

IDEOLOGIC ORGAN.

The voice of Ai Aso hangs on a single vowel, quivering like bird wings adjusting on the wind. Each pluck on her acoustic guitar is framed by the tips of fingers halting notes prematurely, or creaking up the fretboard to prepare for the next chord. Each gesture on The Faintest Hint is granted the space to exist. Each lyrical syllable, each string resonance. They emerge into the air, hung upon silence like porcelain mobiles, sharing a moment of intimacy with their surroundings before disappearing, gifting the space wholly to Aso’s next proclamation. These are pop songs when considered in their entirety. There are verses and choruses. There are overt sentiments of solemnity, gentle hope, tilts of sunlit nostalgia. Yet where so much pop collapses into a blast of present tense, this album makes clear the daisychaining of individual actions that somehow culminate in the passing of time. Each track is a Zeno’s paradox; Aso is so enrapt in each moment that the elapsing of a whole track feels like a logical fallacy.

The album could have easily been reduced to one guitar and one voice throughout. When Aso stretches for the whispered high notes on “Floating Rhythms”, faltering in the most exquisite fashion, the presence of additional instruments would have felt like a distraction. The decision to occasionally ornament these songs with synthesisers, harmonies or drum machines is never taken lightly, with each revering the quietude exacted by the core setup. Chimes dribble down the edges of “Move”, vanishing as quickly as they come. Stephen O’Malley’s guitar traces a ghostly cradle around the melancholic refrain of “Gone”, which similarly refuses to reside any longer than necessary. The primary outlier is “Scene”: a ballad in which Aso is backed by the members of Boris, with brushkit pattering like light rain and guitars unfurling like flowers across the horizontal. It briefly illuminates the terrain that is otherwise resigned to shadow, acting as a repository for the inclination toward excess so that the rest of The Faintest Hint can release itself, unimpeded by divergent temptations, into the quiet.