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Monday, July 16, 2007

Anchorsong, The Storytelling E.P.

“Live electronica. Boring, isn’t it? Usually a couple of gangly blokes with computer screen tans, dubious facial hair and bobble hats, ducking about behind a bank of equipment, twiddling some knobs while the audience stroke their chins. There’s the odd exception - Orbital with their spectacle-mounted torches, The Prodigy with Mad Keith et al, and maybe The Chemical Brothers - still, it’s never going to be as much fun as going to a full-on rawwwk show with guitars and stuff, is it?”

A common sentiment and one I’d usually be inclined to agree with - I listen to a lot of electronica but I rarely feel any desire to go and see the artists perform live. Perhaps this kind of reaction was what Masaaki Yoshida had in mind when he gave his first solo performance as Anchorsong in September 2004. Since then, thanks partly to around 40,000 views on YouTube, his live shows have become something of a phenomenon. Armed with an Akai MPC2000XL and a Korg Triton he builds up the songs from scratch, a process which has been likened to “a painter drawing on a white canvas.” It’s fascinating to watch and it sounds amazing. As a result, he finds himself in an unusual position for an electronic artist - he’s proved himself as a live act but can he recreate that buzz on record? His debut release, The Storytelling E.P, definitely points in the right direction.

Unlike a lot of instrumental/electronic releases, the five songs here are relatively short - ‘Breathe Breathe Me’ is the longest despite clocking in at a relatively measly six minutes. Anchorsong generally makes use of the same thundering drums and bass that characterised a lot of DJ Shadow’s early work, but with more pace (although it’s hardly Happy Hardcore). If you’ve seen Anchorsong on YouTube then you’re bound to be familiar with ‘Calling (Never Stop)’. It’s the first track on the E.P and sets out his signature sound, but over the remainder of the record Yoshida proves he’s no one-trick pony - piano breaks, muted strings and, what sounds like the doom-laden bells of the Marie Celeste (towards the end of ‘In His Left Pocket’) all have a place here.

The E.P alone is well worth the ¥1500 price, but what makes it the best buy of the year so far is the six-track DVD that’s included. The first three tracks are taken from a live performance with String Quartet and are achingly beautiful - ‘Breathe Breathe Me’ is probably the weakest song on the E.P, but performed live here it takes on a whole new energy. The final three songs are the clips that have been doing the rounds on-line, but with the crispness and clarity that YouTube and other websites generally lack.

The Storytelling E.P is a strong record and a stand out in a world of similar sounding bands flogging themselves on MySpace. At the moment Cornelius is Japan’s best-known producer/electronic magpie, but the paucity of his last album is in stark contrast to the sheer verve of this E.P. Name value and recognition are no substitute for good music, and anyone who was disappointed with Sensuous would do well to look out for Anchorsong.