It didn’t seem possible that Sasagawa Miwa could get any more introspective, but she does.
Yoake, her third studio album, starts off softly and never really rises to a boisterous level. At least, not in the same manner as some of her more extroverted moments on previous albums.
It’s that steady mood that gives the album a more coherent feel, even when some dead spots threaten to derail its pace.
Yoake begins with its title track, a sparse piece featuring Sasagawa, her piano and some subtle effects far in the background. It feels like the slow prelude to a big beginning, but that beginning never arrives.
Instead, the tremolo of mandolins fade in at the start of "Himawari", and Sasagawa immediately establishes the tone of the album.
Celtic influences have always been part of her music, but they’re clearly identified with Uillean pipes, tin whistle and bodhran on "Irimasen ka". The country influence of "Nagareboshi" makes a suitable follow-up.
The middle of the album — usually Sasagawa’s weakest spots — is once again where she kills its momentum.
"Kikyoo" is so ethereal, it get lost in its own haze of effects. "Midori" welcomes a more Southeast Asian influence to Sasagawa’s international aesthetic. And the 6-minute "Nagashite Shimaou" meanders.
"Mujoo" thankfully brightens up the album to set the stage for a final quiet conclusion.
Sasagawa’s melodies seem to take similar contours on this album, her soprano leaps emblematic of folk music in Ireland and/or Japan.
She navigates them wonderfully, but she’s done it many times before.
Although Yoake may have its shortcomings, it’s a tighter album than Amata, which had a lot of ambition but scattered focus.
Neither album reaches quite the level of her debut, Jijitsu, which itself set an incredibly high bar.
It’s still interesting to hear Sasagawa weave such disparate influences into a single sound. The way her music traverses time is thrilling in whatever form it takes.