Masaki Hanakata – MARVEL

We last heard from Masaki Hanakata with the release of his double-sided single ‘hippopotamus / port elephant’. Those two songs shared a very particular kind of intimacy from the Tokyo-based artist. Tender, reflective and playful, Hanakata distinguished himself from his peers with a tone that removed all sharp corners. His instrumentation sounded like the soundtrack to an animated tale that kids could enjoy as well as adults. Now here we are speaking about his new album, MARVEL. The trajectory continues well, but also things are different.

Singing in his native Japanese doesn’t do as much to separate English-speaking listeners as draw them in. Thirteen of the fifteen tracks are named in English. They’re cute names too; ‘Rainbow’, ‘Blurry’, ‘Greece Blue’. There are hints of sadness and blood in moments like ‘Macbeth’, and ‘Vineyard’, but for the main, it is a sense of wonder that maps progress through Hanakata’s world. It’s the tonal quality of the album that works. This is emotive, not literal stuff – and with suggestion Hanakata has super powers.

Playing all the instruments himself, the artist distributes color well. Hand drums, accordions, plucked strings. There is cohesion, but there is also a looseness that’s pleasing. Fans of Hanakata’s compatriot band Tenniscoats will revel in the sense of light at the center of the sugar-coated tunes. Like Tenniscoats material, there are moments where the delicate edges of a song occupy a place of joy and sadness at the same time.

One aspect of Hanakata’s work that draws in the ear is the melodic structures. Tied to neither eastern or western traditions, his progressions meander between influences. At times we settle into what feels like known territory, but then a gentle shift and the artist leads a melodic surprise, and a place of invention. In a world where bite, antagonism and political charge are usually the measure of experimentation it’s refreshing that here the artist explores other methods of achieving height and depth.

It’s because of limited endurance that our lifespans are so beautiful – and with MARVEL Masaki Hanakata captures the sense of awe and respect for the process of being alive.



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