Album Review: Sachi Kobayashi – Lamentations

[Phantom Limb/Spirituals; 2024]

With her previous album, May 2023’s Melodies in the Garden, Sachi Kobayashi explored sun-splashed vistas, exuding a sense that the universe is defined by the presence of love. With her new album, the ironically titled Lamentations, she readopts a positive stance while reaching for more paradoxical gestalts. The set emanates a brightness we’ve come to associate with Kobayashi’s forays; it also, however, shows the Japanese artist employing sounds and textures that evoke discomfort and allude, albeit obliquely, to death. In this way, Kobayashi invokes her most holistic vision, pointing to the intricate nature of existence.

Kobayashi is striking when she blends eclecticism and restraint, as with “Crack”, which merges classical phrasing and accents that occur as equally sublime and whimsical. “Unforgettable” employs a foreground of synth-y drones and Basinski-esque hisses that aspire to the epic. If “Memory” does indeed address recollection, it’s a non-clinging brand of remembrance, content passing through the mind as easily as it enters. The notion of self is a psychological function but also a construct bolstered by conditioning (reinforced narratives and cultural standards). Identity is anything but static; memory, as science has demonstrated, is more generative than factual.

“Lament” points to crystalline space, a vastness largely hospitable but one that also seems, in moments, to be alien or slightly foreboding. The Kenyan composer KMRU comes to mind, though KMRU frequently dots his soundscapes with samples that evoke specific locales and people, pointing to the importance of community and communal belonging. Kobayashi, on the other hand, focuses on the possible alignment between the individual mind and cosmic orders. If KMRU often collages sound to promote a brand of social uplift, Kobayashi leans in a Zen or Taoist direction, suggesting that the natural condition of the human psyche is one of calmness, clarity, even bliss (though people don’t spend much time in that state).

Closer “Peace” is the set’s most minimalistic track. Shimmering synths waft across the sonic field, conjuring moments, decades, eons, eternity. This is the mind emptied of preoccupations, self-absorptions, craving, shame, etc. Now scintillant, free. An audial portrayal of Nibbana. Kobayashi concludes her album on a celestial note, having taken the listener on a multifaceted journey. With Lamentations, she reiterates earlier approaches and her penchant for the beatific, all the while inching toward new and bolder integrations.