Album Review: Yui Onodera – Too Ne

[Room40; 2022]

The opening of Yui Onodera’s Too Ne feels like water trickling inside your mind. Indeed, there does appear to the sound of literal water in the background, but it goes beyond that. The gentle drone of the synths mimics the feeling of being slowly cast downstream, away from all worries, away from the world itself.

Having been a regular presence on Kompakt’s Pop Ambient series for years now, Yui’s first release for Lawrence English’s Room40 imprint finds him in a supreme space beyond that which he’s reached before. This is music without beginning or end, simply lulling you into a dank cave of sound. As you continue ever further into the musical stream, it envelopes you completely.

Indeed, as with most ambient and drone, this is music for the patient, but it rewards that very listener tenfold. Allowing yourself to be carried away on its current offers a respite from just about anything this world can throw at you, a calming presence in a sea of unrest. The title, Too Ne, is no mistake: an old Japanese word, seldom used in the modern country, it refers to a sound emanating from far away, referring to both distance and the act of reaching out for a sound perhaps simply too removed for us to grasp.

You can imagine, as I’ve written, floating downstream, in some unknowable place, watching the surroundings pass you by, glacially. Or, perhaps, you’re in a kayak, traveling gently out to sea, deeper and further than logic dictates, but in doing so, freeing yourself from what worldly thing that ails you.

As ever, I find it challenging to write about ambient, especially of a sort so distinct yet unreachable as Too Ne: it’s simply such a personal journey. Whatever your feeling is, wherever it takes you, I suggest you simply let it do its work, for you will no doubt emerge feeling better for it.

“Too Ne I” and “Too Ne II” are practically of a single mind, yet “III” allows the waters to recede a bit, focusing instead on the drone itself, creating something of a crystal chamber for the listener. Blips of something resembling static enter, yet so delicate so as to not disturb in the slightest, only adding to the air of mystery. A few moments in, what seems to resemble water returns, yet instead of a flowing river, you’re now surrounded by droplets, as if you have reached somewhere deep within an aquatic cave. You stop for a moment and admire the stalactites gradually dripping down.

“IV”, then, seems to reach an even more transcendent place, with Too Ne gradually giving you the feeling of leaving Earth itself. It’s as if your journey has somehow brought you so far past any worldly concerns that you are ascending into some sort of higher plain, one in which only sound and feeling matter.

“V” is the emergence. As if you’ve arrived at some nexus in the universe, far from anything you know, yet entirely sure of your surroundings. A sound, after all, can be a memory maker, a device to help us recollect the places we’ve been with more intimacy. Too Ne seeks to take you to those places, and to somewhere new, all at once. Whatever it is you’ve been looking for, you’ve found it. Whatever it is you’ve been worried about, it’s past you now. You’ve arrived.