Over the past six years or so, Japanese singer-guitarist Hisato Higuchi has released several quietly affecting albums from the Family Vineyard label in the Midwest. This collection from the legendary Tokyo-based P.S.F. label looks back to Higuchi’s earliest beginnings, several years before his first release, and unearths recordings from two live performances in Tokyo.
This isn’t Higuchi’s first live release, but it’s got a different feel from 2005’s self-released 2004 11 2005 4, which focused more on quiet guitar atmospheres. Nine of the 11 songs here were recorded in 1995, the final two the following year, and all provide a diffuse, uncomplicated guitar-voice simplicity. Like Higuchi’s early Dialogue, these are short, spare pieces that feel like the artist is alone in a room and we’re accidentally overhearing him.
Because of the meditative intensity of the songs, the applause at the end of each feels like a surprise -- almost an intrusion. Yet, I found that the most effective way to listen was to close my eyes and imagine being in attendance at the shows. Without that focus, the spareness can easily let the music slip away into the background, where it effectively vanishes. These are emotional songs, yet very reserved: Higuchi’s breathy vocals aren’t melodic, instead emerging like a near-monotone incantation. It’s the guitar that provides the melodic content, with delicately chiming, clean notes, an electric played like an acoustic. Because of the style, it can be a little hard at first to connect with these songs, but their calm seeps in and, if you’re paying attention, has a quiet impact.
Occasionally Higuchi gets exercised, relatively speaking. The ringing chords of “家” buoy vocals as close to anguished as anything here, and rougher, more emotive singing emphasizes the repeating guitar motif of “部屋”. But for the most part the energy here is flat, and I don’t mean that pejoratively. You’ll either feel the heart beating within these short, spare songs or you won’t. Intricate yet uncomplicated, I found my relationship with the album varied a lot depending on the mood with which I approached it. At times I wanted more singing, more emotion and feeling from Higuchi’s vocals. These songs aren’t going to push their way in; you’ll need to let them in. But if you do, they’ll have more effect than you’d expect.