A lot of this album is pretty far outside my usual listening habits, but within Devy’s massive discography I can already draw a lot of clear comparisons – Biomech and Terria come to mind if I scan what I’ve listened to, and I’m told Ki, Addicted, Epicloud, and a whole slew of his other recent works share some similarities too. “Fallout“, in particular, sounds like it could’ve been written for Biomech and easily fit in with a production shift. Needless to say, this is far from undiscovered territory for Devin and his various companions. One major difference, though, is the huge emphasis on vocals, especially those of main female vocalist Anneke van Giersbergen. This isn’t even her first time working inside the Project; but the types of vocals she uses seem pretty similar to those of Devin; lots of clean earnest singing at various dynamic levels, although she doesn’t seem to bother with screams.
Now, there are some people who aren’t into artists using the pop side of their repertoire/musical language. I used to think I was such a person, but I’ve found some degree of serenity since then. I don’t know about the rest of Devin’s discography, but apparently Z² has a lot of content that tributes or pastiches other artists, including a few you are very unlikely to read about on this blog. Considering that I never even thought this might be a possibility until researching the duology AFTER listening to it, I’d say it’s nothing more skeevish (or normal) listeners need to worry about. On the other hand, it also probably means the members here have been doing as they please for a while. It’s a good way to keep your music from being too neurotic.
Oddly enough, when you get to the dynamic levels that you see on Sky Blue, I begin to prefer the straighter ahead pop material to the more ambient material; Tangerine Dream this is not, and it doesn’t want to be either. Comparing again to other Devin Townsend works, I tend to get more out of Biomech and Infinity than let’s say Terria, and I’m probably not going to end up acquiring Ghost unless I end up listening to a sample of it and getting particularly gripped/possessed by its content. I don’t know if I would’ve listened to Sky Blue if it didn’t come with the successor to Ziltoid the Omniscient, but it succeeded in further interesting me in that side of Devin Townsend’s music. In other words, it’s a success.
Highlights: “Fallout”, “Universal Flame”, “Warrior”
Blue Limbo is a sci-fi book by Terrence M. Green. I haven’t read it, but I get the feeling that this album is entirely unrelated. Not that I can tell, since I’ve made no attempt to actually learn the Japanese language. Even then, I’d have trouble interpreting, since Susumu Hirasawa likes using archaic Japanese. Anyways, outside of its musical merits, Blue Limbo has a lot of odd events framing it. For example, the song “High-Minded Castle” (a better translation is apparently “Royal Castle”) was released for free as a protest against the Iraq War. The title track has a music video which showcases Hirasawa riding around on a recumbent bicycle (when he’s not being a CGI-empowered spaceship), which is slightly more unusual than the usual subject matter of his promotional videos. I could go on in this vein for a while.
On the other hand, the music basically relies on the same songwriting formulas as it has from Aurora onwards. Susumu Hirasawa has generally been content to write in a pop flavored verse-chorus vein, and this album isn’t an exception. Blue Limbo still shows the continued evolution of Hirasawa’s aesthetics. Since P-MODEL had disbanded by the time this came out, it makes sense that he would transfer the urge to make electronic music over to his solo projects. As a result, between 1999 and 2003, we got Philosopher’s Propeller, which had more obvious synthesizers than most previous work, and Solar Ray, which was a compilation of electronics heavy rerecordings of earlier work. This isn’t as overtly synthy as Solar Ray, or some of Hirasawa’s mid-90s work, but the electronics are often used in more complex ways – there’s more loops and more complex parts in general.
Also of note are the vocals, which continue a trend that showed up on the 1995 album Sim City (Which, oddly, has more to do with Thai culture than Maxis). From that point onwards, Hirasawa started using significant amounts of background ‘guest’ vocals – often using techniques associated with various forms of Asian music, and offering him a way to incorporate his apparent interest in those cultures. Blue Limbo represents a partial reversal of that trend, as it, and the album after (Byakkoya) it show off more “Western” vocals, mainly taking the form of massed choirs. As you can see, it’s very hard to talk about any of S.H’s albums without mentioning the others. The guy has a very large body of work, and he tends to change fairly gradually from album to album, so it’s interesting to compare albums and helps one think about them. On the other hand, such an approach makes it harder for any of the albums to show off their individuality. One thing I think Blue Limbo does particularly well is use of guitar – Susumu Hirasawa has this interesting improvisational style as a guitarist that doesn’t really manifest except as occasional guitar solos. This album has more and better guitar work than anything else he’s released in the last few years that I’ve listened to. Whether you should obtain it or not depends mainly on whether you’re into the style of music he’s been developing over his career.
Highlights: “Grandfatherly Wind”, “Ride the Blue Limbo”, “The Sniper”, “Limbo-54”
Incidentally, at this point, what I would be interested in seeing from Susumu Hirasawa is more collaborations, possibly even with someone like Devin Townsend, who has a surprisingly similar approach at times. Obviously, DT plays up the humor aspects of his work a lot more, and has been known to work at the ‘balls-crushingly heavy’ end of extreme metal. A combination of the two definitely has potential.