Do you ever hear a piece of music that feels like it was made exactly for you at exactly the time and place you’re hearing it? Music that just fits, wraps around you, slips into your mind like the first blush of sun coming in the window? Music so effortlessly enjoyable that its radical warmth goes unquestioned? I’m not talking simply love-at-first-listens; it’s a different thing. I mean music that feel as natural as breathing.
Music For Nine Post Cards does exactly that. Hiroshi Yoshimura may have recorded this album in 1982, but it slipped into my winter 2018 sound world without notice and quickly became the contemplative little heart at the center of the new year’s listening.
For an album released the year I was born, the music in here refuses to age a day.
Thanks to a November 2017 reissue distributed by one of the best music archaeologists in the business, Light in the Attic, Yoshimura’s sound was finally amplified well beyond the modest blip it made in Japan over thirty years ago. Disarmingly simple Fender Rhodes pieces and hushed synth pads build a latticework of softly enveloping tones, floating just outside of any recognizable musical paradigm; this familiar-adjacent mood cloaking its locus in some undefinable place at once alien and intrinsic. The music feels as gentle as a hug from a loved one or the exquisite sense of saudade when pondering their absence.
This profoundly affecting music was dragged into the present day by Empire of Signs, a new imprint from Portland musicians Maxwell August Croy and Spencer Doran, aka Visible Cloaks (maker of one of the best albums of 2017). Music For Nine Post Cards is, in fact, their very first release. As first impressions go, there are few equals in the record industry. This humble, magical little set of tunes is really that deeply felt.
There’s a great couple paragraphs on the history of Yoshimura’s art scene in Tokyo in the 1970s on the label’s website that I think everyone should read. I won’t repeat all that, but I feel compelled to share the bit that struck me most: This new form of music was called kankyō ongaku (環境音楽), literally translated as “environmental music” – the name that the Japanese gave to the new ambient music Brian Eno was popularizing at the time. Thus, Yoshimura was making “music not as an external absolute, but as something that interlocks with a physical environment and shifts the listener’s experience within it.”
When I read that last bit, I felt like it painted an even simpler picture of my attraction to this sound. More than pure mood pieces, these are playful songs, achingly beautiful, wordlessly blooming into poetry. They fill the air, coloring in the background details as you breathe them in. The entire album could loop three or four times before I’d care to notice.
The most surprising thing of all about this dreamy masterpiece is that it was Yoshimura’s very first release. The songs were originally written for an art museum, literally occupying a formal space, but needed to be released into the wild. He went on to craft similarly hushed music for three more decades, until his death in 2003, yet this first effort remains a perfect starting point.
Here’s one of the nine equally hypnotizing tracks, Dreams:
Unassuming gems like this are exactly why labels like Light in the Attic exist and thrive in today’s cutthroat marketplace. Maybe it’s just aging, or maybe there’s no reason, but I tend to seek out artifacts in time when it comes to new music lately. Sure, I keep up with new releases, but my deepest curiosity is often most rewarded by these dips into the past, by labels ferrying mostly-unknown treasure into the future. More than almost anything I’ve heard in the last year or so, Music For Nine Postcards has become vital listening.
The album can be bought and sampled directly from the label release page, but those looking for a physical copy may want to check their local record shop or search Discogs. This one sold out fast at the source.