Album Review: Sen Morimoto – Sen Morimoto

[Sooper; 2020]

Until now, Sen Morimoto has been holding back – if not in the presentation of his music, then certainly in its delivery. The Chicago-based multi-instrumentalist’s 2018 debut album Cannonball! made a splash, but, in hindsight, it was a stepping stone to how he wanted to present his music. Deliberately stripping away layers to present something unvarnished, it was effective in its minimalism, but its self-titled successor is much more ambitious in execution – a sprawling 15-track collection that finds him filling in the spaces left unoccupied in his earlier work.

As if to immediately illustrate the differences between where Morimoto was and where he’s at now, Sen Morimoto opens with a sequel song: “Love, Money Pt. 2” expands on a track from 2017 EP It’s Late, bridging the gap between past and present. It also introduces the high-fidelity sound explored on the record; something he couldn’t quite commit to on his debut, but it was only a matter of time before he went all in, and his second album has a list of features to match. There’s a reunion with KAINA on “Butterflies” that continues the duo’s fine collaborative streak as the track highlights the value of one’s own space (“Don’t ever ask me where I go / I couldn’t tell you, then you’d know”), zigzagging between urgency and nonchalance – recurring states across the record. Sooper Records co-owner NNAMDÏ contributes his propulsive flow to mid-album highlight “Wrecked”, whose anxious lyrical perspective is at odds with the track’s laid-back air, just enough to keep the listener on edge – a feeling that lingers and intensifies elsewhere.

These songs feel like diary entries in their unfiltered expression, drawing on feelings we all have but are understandably reluctant to share. Morimoto is more reckless with what parts of himself he puts on display, and it suits him, with “The Things I Thought About You Started to Rhyme” finding him panicked and questioning his own belief systems, querying the space between his mental and physical realities: “I believe in you like I believe in words / I believe in God like my dog believes I’m dead ‘til I come home from work.”

If it’s unsettling, then that’s the point. Morimoto’s never been one for making others feel comfortable, whether in his music or in his politics – he made headlines earlier this year after being removed from a virtual concert lineup after criticising Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s inaction in response to protests that pushed for the defunding of the Chicago Police Department. His provocative ethos is reflected in the maximalist approach he adopts, shining light into dark places on an album that’s hard-hitting even at its most languid. “Woof” takes a wry look at emotional development in one of the record’s key moments, with Morimoto learning to rely on himself to fight through his struggles, even as he wonders if it’s possible to walk away from his shadow and whether growth can be achieved through simply talking things out when putting on a brave face is no longer enough. It’s an extremely relatable feeling – “I’m too tired for pretending to be happy / Now I’m crying so loud that my dog is barking at me” is a big 2020 mood.

In self-titling his new album, Morimoto declares that it’s the most accurate representation of what he’s trying to accomplish as an artist yet, and it’s an argument that’s borne out by the record’s impressive scope. There’s so much going on, but crucially that expansive sound never becomes overwhelming. From “Love, Money Pt. 2” through to closing track “Jupiter”, these glimpses into the artist’s world – with vulnerability and strength held in equal esteem – are nothing less than engrossing. He’s learned not to hold back, either in his music or in his lyrics; Sen Morimoto is quite the journey, and there’s no telling where he could go next.