As the 1990s progressed Japanese musician Tetsu Inoue drifted away from making the ambient music that had characterised his first four solo records and off into glitchville. For the next ten years his music would lose much of the smoothness found in his early works, travelling instead along grittier, experimental and frankly more challenging paths. In an interview, a few years after choosing to explore new avenues he stated ‘I was doing such a direction, like landscapes, for such a long time. I became kind of bored by it. The new music uses more of a "hard cut" style... not body music, but more active-listening, more intellectual.’
Early in 2007 fans of Inoue’s early pure ambient direction finally had their appetite satiated after a long wait, when 2350 Broadway 4, the first installment in a series produced with Pete Namlook for 11 years suddenly arrived. This was a beautiful album of gentle drones (and a story for another day) but would Inoue continue to re-explore these ambient stylings in his solo work? The answer arrived four months later with the release of Inland; a work inspired by the hilly, rural surroundings of Woodstock, NY and it was a very happy yes. Although he may have been back with a bang Inland must surely serve as one of the most underrated albums ever released on the Fax label. Try searching the internet for information about this release and there is very little out there, yet by rights when it arrived there should have been fanfares from the tops of mountains. Yes, it really is that good. When Tetsu Inoue sets his mind to producing works of environmental ambience it is a testament to his great talents that the results don’t sound like music inspired by nature - they sound like nature itself. With this in mind trying to review the gorgeous Inland is a difficult task, a little like trying to pin down the wind.
Over the course of nearly an hour of almost seamless music Inoue taps totally and completely into his natural surroundings, producing results that seem effortless. The opening track, with its backwards textures suggests breezes, sweeping over fields and hills, as cloud formations slowly move, allowing sunlight to periodically break across the ground. This is a mood that carries over into Tree and Me, which confirms the album’s direction, whilst evoking changing seasons and moments caught up in the magic of nature’s constant, unpredictable flux.
Peak delivers precisely what its title suggests. It is as if a climber has reached a summit, turned around and is surveying the magnificence of a panoramic vista. For a few fleeting moments the whole album comes to a powerful high point (pardon the pun), courtesy of some emotional surges of sound.
Symphony H20 makes good on the promise of its title, the music sculpted to sound like globules of water. Droplets of rain and flowing streams and rivers can all be seen, simply by listening and some clever, semi-submerged white noise even paints pictures of waterfalls somewhere in these cavernous, immersive sounds.
Overlook, its title taken from Woodstock’s Overlook Mountain, is the longest track on the album and it manages to bring proceedings to a suitably beautiful conclusion. Ever stood on hilltops, bathed in warm sunlight, as time momentarily seemed to stand still? Well, it’s right here, captured in sound. Inoue’s clever craftsmanship as a musician is made clear in a track that rises to a gentle crescendo way before its conclusion and then drifts to a close.
That this album wasn’t more celebrated on its release is approaching criminal and to this listener’s ears Inland is…whisper it…second only to Ambiant Otaku in Inoue’s solo canon. Yes, that’s right: even better than Organic Cloud. As Inland is a particularly subtle affair those approaching it for the first time would be well advised not to expect fireworks with the first play. It is only after three or four listens that this album really weaves its watercolour spell.
So where is Tetsu Inoue now? Sadly, Inland stands as his last album to date. As e-mails from close friends and business associates have gone unanswered for several years there has been mounting speculation regarding his whereabouts and even the truly awful possibility that he may have been caught up in the Japanese tsunami of 2011. Personally, I like to believe that he is safe in Japan with family and will re-emerge to make more powerful music when he is good and ready.