Review: Kumi Takahara – See-through

FLAU.

On “Nostalgia”, the third track on Takahara’s debut record, two piano-playing hands pass eachother like strangers on the stairs. They appear peripherally aware of one another, yet otherwise swept into their own daydreamt trajectories, as one hand ambles down and the other saunters up. The piece depicts this moment and nothing else. The two melodic lines appear like characters in an unlabelled photograph, presented out of context and deeply suggestive of a story and feeling the sprawls far beyond the frame.

See-through is built on scenes such as this. The melodies are modest and spacious – settling into three-note repetitions, collapsing into resolution with lush inevitability – yet nuance and contradiction is summoned through how these melodies are played: how the strings poise on the edge of the piano, dangling their feet and drinking in the view ahead, or how wordless vocalisations slip like silk down the slopes of wistful major scales. During a particularly striking passage on “Chime”, Takahara plays the Big Ben chime out of nowhere: London fades into view as if emerging from fog, with the soft melancholy of her playing style drenching the scene in 5am drizzle.

The real masterstroke of See-through is how it holds back. Clues are left dangling and the listener can’t help but unspool them. A brief climactic flourish on “Tide” works to illustrate what is intentionally absent from the rest of the record, filling every inch of the image with voices and strings and glistening FX, unequivocally rendering the ocean in panorama. This grand declaration only makes the restraint elsewhere feel even richer; Takahara understands the potential in offering only torn-out diary pages, scrawled postcards and faint flashbacks, allowing the listener to frame these partial images with their own memories and desires.