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The Nocturnes - Aokigahara CD (album) cover

AOKIGAHARA

The Nocturnes

 

Prog Folk

4.29 | 3 ratings

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VanVanVan
Prog Reviewer
4 stars Yet another album I discovered via the forums. "Aokigahara" is progressive folk for a new world, combining folk not with symphonic prog but with influences from post-rock, alt-rock, and shoegaze. Hopefully that sounds interesting because that's exactly what this album is: interesting. A variety of sonic textures are used incredibly well to back up gorgeous vocals, and atmosphere is the star player here, not technicality.

"Aokigahara" begins the album with some gorgeous vocal harmonies, guitar, and minimal soundscapes that I can only describe as "wintry." From the opening notes you know how this song is going to go: the delicate, spacey vocals complement the electronics to create a very dense sound even though the arrangement is actually kind of minimal. The melodies are beautiful as well, creating an intense feeling of melancholy or longing. About midway through the song takes on a slightly harder edge as some electric guitars are added. The group's bandcamp describes this album as "folk-gaze" and I think that's a very good way to describe this song. "Aokigahara" is psychedelic, melodic, droning, distorted, and delicate all in one- a great song and a great opener.

"London Town" is next, and it starts off with some fuzzy guitar that sounds to me like a combination of country and avant-pop. This is the feel that persists throughout the song; I really feel that if you played the guitar part on an acoustic guitar and arranged the track differently it would have quite a bit of country twang to it. The ethereal vocals from the first track return in a slightly different context; instead of harmonies it's more like a duet, with the male vocals low and the female vocals high. A recurring riff actually makes the song quite catchy despite how "out-there" it is, at least to my ears. Some excellent but understated bass work is the final piece of the puzzle, and overall it's a great blend of influences and quite a unique song.

"Love" begins sounding a bit like a slower, more spaced-out Decemberists song, the closest point of reference from that band probably being something off of their recent album "The King is Dead." The Nocturnes' unique vocals quickly put that comparison to rest, however, with the languid delivery of the dual vocalists giving the song a totally original feel. This one is a little more rhythmic and less spacey than the tracks that preceded it, but it still fits in very well with the "folk-gaze" sensibilities of the album.

"The Cradle" begins with an acoustic guitar solo, and quite a good one at that. This quickly changes into a duet between acoustic and electric guitars and female vocals are added on top of this haunting combination. The solo vocals and minimalistic arrangement gives the song a much more "stripped-down" feeling than either the title track or "London Town," but the song is no less powerful for it. The Nocturnes are apparently very good at pulling off a "less-is-more" kind of songwriting, as "The Cradle" manages to be quite haunting and emotional even though it's very subtly composed.

"The Road" follows, beginning with acoustic guitar, bass, and some minimal synths. When the vocals come in, the song begins to remind me very strongly of a band called Pure Reason Revolution, specifically their first album. This is perhaps one of the more straight-folk songs on the album, though that's only comparatively, as the spacey instrumentals and dual vocals still make sure you still know what band you're listening to.

"Hello Neighbor" is a bit more uptempo than "The Road," though the vocalists still manage to imbue the track with a great sense of peace, evoking again that "wintry" feeling that I mentioned in the first track's notes. The vocals are really the primary melodic instrument here, but the backing guitars and bass complement them perfectly, filling the space and providing an awesome if brief instrumental break in the middle of the track.

"Craving" switches it up yet again, exchanging these delicate guitar parts for heavily distorted guitars and percussion. In a different context the instrumental parts of this song would probably be called post-metal, but the songwriting and especially the vocal melodies (I feel like a broken record but they really are amazing) keep the song feeling decidedly folk even in the face of rasping, heavy guitars. It's quite impressive to me how the group can use such a variety of instrumentations and still keep such a characteristic sound, but they pull it off with flying colors.

"Grandmother Make a Steeple" closes off the album, and like a lot of the music on "Aokigahara" it has a kind of "depressing Americana" feel to it. Like many of the other songs, beautiful guitar parts and exceptional vocal melodies are the name of the game here, with the vocals of the song being perhaps the most emotion-filled of the entire album. A little bit more straightforward and less spacey than the song that opened the album, "Grandmother Make a Steeple" is nevertheless a perfect finish to a great album.

So if it isn't obvious by now this album comes highly recommended. Don't let the prog-folk label make you think is a Jethro Tull clone or a remnant of the acid-folk of years past; this is something else entirely. Were it longer than 40 minutes it might begin to get a bit repetitive, but as it stands it's a nearly perfect, self-contained package of wonderful music. If this blend of styles isn't the modern definition of prog-folk than I don't know what is. Plus it's a free download on bandcamp so there's no excuse not to give it a listen.

4/5

VanVanVan | 4/5 |

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