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CD Review: Arjuna: Into The Another World by Yoko Kanno

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Yoko Kanno has been involved in providing the music for several well-known, well-loved anime series and movies. However, for all the great works that she’s been a part of, there are some duds as well. One such dud, in my opinion, is the anime series Arjuna. The characters are annoying, the environmental message is delivered with the subtlety of a hammer, and the creators write themselves into a corner by the end of the series. The only major positive about this show (apart from the nice animation) is Yoko Kanno’s music. The unusual, inventive music showcased on Into The Another World is way too good for the show it was written for.

Into The Another World strikes a delicate balance between the organic and the otherworldly. Non-electric instruments, tribal drums, and chants figure heavily into much of the music found here. However, these sounds are combined with traditional pop music sounds including piano, strings, electric guitar, and electronic synthesizers. Also, most of the vocals on this album are sung in an unrecognizable language. Only one song sung in this language, “Aqua,” has a translation in the CD booklet. This makes listening to much of the album akin to listening to world music, but the knowledge that no one speaks the language that is being sung adds an alien element.

There is a lot of excellent and immensely creative music found throughout Into The Another World. “Awakening” sounds a lot like a remixed version of a ritual. As the same incoherent words are repeated in female voices, tribal-style drums are combined with heavy bass, “organic” sounds created with electronics, strings, piano, and other instruments. The song has a strong, almost epic feel to it. Chants also dominate “The Clone” but this short song is divided into two parts. The first has predominantly female voices and hand claps while the second features male voices and powerful, electronic-assisted drums.

Although much of the album features chants, there is also more traditional sounding music to be found here as well. Multiple types of acoustic guitar dominate the mostly instrumental “2nd Life.” “Feel The Circle” is a haunting, music-box style instrumental theme that is augmented by strings. “Bells For Her” is a solemn piece that is an excellent combination of piano and strings. “Motor Bike” is one of the few songs sung in a recognizable language (Japanese with an English translation in the booklet). It’s a midtempo pop ballad sung beautifully by Maaya Sakamoto. She also wrote the lyrics (and sang the vocals) for one of the album’s best songs, “Mameshiba.” It’s a solid pop track that benefits from Kanno’s excellent production.

Into The Another World is one of Yoko Kanno’s finest works. It’s original, fascinating, and ambitious. It is also an album that is best enjoyed as a consistent listening experience, even if it is a little long with 20 listed songs and two bonus tracks. It is not the most complex album of music you will hear and the inability to understand much of what is sung is kind of a loss. What makes this album brilliant, though, is the way that it manages to both emulate and reinvent “primitive” music. Nothing else out there sounds quite like this and it’s unforutnate that the show that features this music isn’t on the same level.

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