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Unagi - Unagi

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Artist: Unagi

Album: Unagi

Label: Kimo Sciotic

Review date: Sep. 22, 2003

Think of Unagi’s self-titled debut as a visit to one of those sushi restaurants with the little boats. Unagi is, after all, a type of sushi – barbequed eel to be exact – typically smothered in teriyaki sauce and sprinkled with sesame seeds. As scary as that may sound for some of you less adventurous types, his music is much more accommodating, tapping into the popular brand of hybridization that brings together music of all genres. You could file it under hip hop, maybe, but his productions touch many other taste buds in a way that makes the experience as a whole that more exciting.

Unagi hits the ground running with “Crazy Chase”, an uncharacteristic opening track that tosses and turns like the first bite of raw fish for a sushi virgin. It sounds daunting, and quite honestly, a little overly ambitious, but serves as a nice primer to the contrastingly low-key ambience of the album’s remainder. This is where Unagi’s true talent shines, able to scatter the disc with quality mid-fi sample based music that travels through soul, jazz, hip hop, and downright vibrant spaces, all of which plays and interconnects with each other in surprisingly fluid ways.

The warm layers of piano on “Nagasaki Narcoleptic” are a sonic accomplishment, segueing beautifully into “Invisible Frenchman”, a delightfully playful tune that toys with vocals. “Space Cadet” is an adventurous piece that sounds like it could have been included in one of CTI’s brand of futuristic space jazz, while “Courtship Ritual” has the feel of a jazz big band laced with funk. Every song is deserved of mention – the ground covered over the span of these 17 tracks is astonishing.

Vocals are deftly interspersed throughout, used more for ornamental purposes than foundations. “The One” is the only clear divergence from this rule, an ’80s love ballad that speaks like LL Cool J’s “I Need Love”, and as cheesy and corny as it may sound, there’s a definite abundance of sonic personality. Moments like this are found on nearly every track, and even if they only last seconds, such as on the power horn riff that breaks up the slow piano loops on “Blown Away”. Given how Unagi limits himself to just a portable sampler, cassette 4-track, and live drum machine, his ability is awe-inspiring.

Like a lot of debuts, Unagi’s efforts can often sound unfocused. The brevity of the tracks (most are under three minutes and a good handful under two) make the 30-minute album sound more like an array of ideas rather than a coherent whole. His limited hardware tends to catch up with him as well, often relying on repetitive loops and straight forward progressions that can lean towards a stale experience by album’s end. Nevertheless, what Unagi is doing is commendable and, for the most part, exciting. It’s by no means revolutionary, but he has a certain je ne sais quoi, and with a little more mastery and time, I wouldn’t be surprised if Unagi made some major power moves in the realm of sultry production.

By Brian Ho

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