Published on Headphone Commute, 2011
With a mysterious and at-once bright beginning, Tone Sketch booms in its own comfortable extents, both experimental and purely different from the future pop, awakening and triggering novel inspiration. After successful releases on labels such as Cotton Goods, Dynamophone, The Land Of, and Symbolic Interaction, Hideki Umezawa, known solely as Pawn, ushers into his musical world a new stride for the Progressive Form label, renowned for releasing artists such as Aoki Takamasa and Shuta Hasunuma. With all that Tone Sketch represents, its backdrop becomes its forefront, an absorbing mixture of exploratory textures, wobbling tones, and crunching frequencies of sharp particles, all cut into possibly an all-new ‘pop’ habitat. Not characteristic of Pawn’s previous works, the album also features guest appearances by a number of guest collaborators, which appear on all but two of the albums’ 12 tracks.
Pawn’s attention to detail and control of mixture is never more apparent than on Tone Sketch. There is subtle control, but freedom in variation and evolution, allowing the palette of sounds to pass perfectly on and on, with tracks like the opener ‘Morning Tone’, building upon crisp beats, resonant patchwork of sparkling tones, and smooth pianos, or the deconstructing‘Star Shards’, featuring soulful ruminations by Flau Records artist Cokiyu(who Pawn has also remixed). With minuscule variations, Pawn’s sway of power glides throughout in a calm motion, changes not seeming abrupt, but as tempos and patterns change, they remain open, and fervent. Possibly the standout track of the album is not surprisingly ‘Painted Wall’, one of the tracks Pawn solely controls, displaying a mastery of collage-style organization in an almost surrealist progression, changing both in surface motion and color, matched with crystalline swells, and pulsing, stepping bass.
‘Forest Trail’, which features Fraqsea and Pleq, is a dizzying, upbeat affair that compounds throughout, pushing through layers of swirling vocals, remaining grounded yet fooling method and time, vocals sustaining the center. It’s disorienting, yet electrifying. ’4 Grid Complex’ with Nyolfen climbs in beats, completely hooking and pummeling the stereo field on a dancefloor of piano and glitching skips. It’s perfectly arranged, and models the present moment in movement of future and time. Opposing are tracks such as ‘Qop’, ‘Prepared Statement’ with Marihiko Hara, and‘Tokyo Resonance’ with Sooner, which fall into a more disenchanting and manic form of arrangement, but this state allows its randomness mixed with playfulness, and it fits the outside confusion to complete a perfectly-circulated atmosphere of bobbing, playful organics. As the longest track of the album, ‘Strange Animal’, featuring Cuushe, is a blended soundscape of sizzling layers of noise, deep echoes, and smooth vocals, chanting and phrasing through the music’s swirling air. The vocals request and answer, both moving, yet completely unsteady. When the beat enters the song nearly halfway, it punches through, and ends as an amalgamation of future pop; an impressive, addictive digital lullaby.
The closer, ‘Discolored Photograph’, walks forward at a calm pace, drums as footsteps, voice samples repeating but barely giving a presence, with strings steadily rising, but not overwhelming with a shrill nature that such additions sometimes create. The centerpiece is the beautiful piano melody, which stays throughout to the end, enrapturing the album into what may be its most straightforward, yet mysterious track. Not straying, it remains straight ahead, summarizing with consistency, imagination, and craftsmanship. Tone Sketch is one of the most inventive albums I’ve heard all year, demonstrating not only a multicolored blend of colors and artistry, but demonstrating that for Pawn, composition is only the beginning of imagination.