A strange ethereal hum and buzz seeps over minimalistic piano as a noise soars over the top. It’s after a few notes you can’t quite tell if it’s a voice or a synth – or even a merger of the two. Welcome to Yusuke Tsutsumi.
“Fallow Land” kicks off the album “Cheap But It Glows” and immediately buries you in atmosphere and sound. Slow piano chords and near operatic vocals slowly are enveloped in a building string section that is taut but sombre and never explodes into a frenzy. Instead it’s content to wrap itself around a flowing chord circle as Yusuke’s vocal flexings fail to take on words. “Prisoners From the North” interestingly follows a very similar chord pattern as the high-pitched string voices warn of an undertow which you can hear but can’t grasp at. There’s a low murmuring of strings that doesn’t push up in volume until half way as the dramatic tom drums bash out the post-rock beat. The song fades out as echoes of whispers read unfathomable passages. It feels so huge in scale for something so simple. “Sparrow in the Woods” too feels epic in scope as you acclimatise to Yusuke’s angelic voice.
“The Wrongful Life of Michel Bollinger” finally see’s some words being sung. At least I think it’s words as it sounds like a warping swirl of syllables. Regardless it has a hypnotic quality as the piano and strings flow and roll around the loop. “7 Days in Sunshine (Cornfield Love)” then see’s a different type of singing as everything gets fluttery and vulnerable. It reminds me of a similar type of singing from an artist called Jo Gabriel. It sounds like at any moment she’s going to cry and veer completely off of tune. It’s effective when done well though, and Yusuke has it nailed. There are light drums that give things a more chamber folk sound to it and this track changes the formula up from the rest of the album which is welcome. The amazingly called “Another Sad Song for This Weepy Thing” opens in French and showcases the more ambient and classical side of the album as various noises and industrial edges are filtered through and then are joined by a rousing string arrangement and pounding drums. It’s like you are going to war in a fantasy blockbuster and you are riding into the heat of battle.
Slowly that track fades back into ambience again and the eerie “Festival Day” begins with different sample loops and string motifs running in different time stamps. Some are four beats, others six, others eight and they all slowly move themselves in and out of time. It’s a disquieting way to create a funfair vibe but just in a purely creepy manner. “Perfect Grey” features another artist called Gao whom gives a beautiful vocal performance. Opening acapella the track then builds into several voice streams as the initially abstract song takes more and more form. It’s as if several building blocks are slowly being pieced back together again and it’s an album highlight. Closing the album is another highlight “Harvest”. The vocals here childlike, as is the production of the piano which reminds me of Agnes Obel, as does the album in general.
“Cheap But It Glows” is a sad, sombre and underplayed album for 70% of the time, and then it’ll rally together and pound your heart out. If that’s in a dramatic upturn of strings, or a wobble of the voice – it doesn’t matter. This album certainly isn’t for everyone, but if you are a fan of chamber music or wanted something to listen to when you want to lock yourself away in a dark room – this is going to be high on your list.