I was digging through the OSV backlogs the other day, and I noticed that, for all the praise we’ve heaped upon freesscape (Emi Evans, Hiroyuki Muneta, et al), we don’t have a review of their debut album.
That changes today.
After the jump, our review of freesscape’s 2004 debut, “Fragile Perfection.”
Each of the ten tracks on freesscape’s first album are special in their own right. It’s rare that I do this, but I’m going to have to break this one down, track by track. Stay with me: the album runs at just under an hour, and I listened to it for 12 hours on loop to prepare for this review.
The opening track, “Stretch,” is a song about rats. The whole song is an extended metaphor, with the refrain declaring: “We have got to lay poison down before the rats come get us.” Grim material for such beautiful music. The whole song works in a common-time, 4 bar sequence, with one chord per bar, and the chord progression changing slightly every few repeats. It’s a strange choice for an opener. Pretty, and strange. Those are probably the two best adjectives for freesscape in general, though.
In “Gleaming,” Emi sings about her “way of freedom…” a paradoxical set of requirements that involve becoming lost to find oneself. The oft-repeated closing line for the refrain, “one day I’ll tell say to me ‘I told you so!’” — there are so many things in all our lives about which we hope we can someday say that to ourselves. That the difficult, shoot-for-the-stars optimistic goals will finally be reached. The melancholy mood of the music betrays the power of the words, though. Or, if nothing else, it suggests the uphill climb will nearly destroy us.
The closest thing to the album’s title track is track 3, “Updraft,” since the lyrics contain the phrase “fragile perfection.” This is probably the “hippest” song on the album. The beat is this sweet, syncopated 6/8, and the drums are constantly competing with the bass for dominance. That bass line is hot, too; it reminds me of Yoshitaka Hirota’s bass lines in Shadow Hearts. Beyond that, I love this piece’s chord progression, and the last line of the refrain, “hover on the updraft of the bridges I am burning…” — that’s dark, and awesome.
“Dreamsong” is the banner under which all tortured artists sit. Don’t believe me? The lyrics declare it so: “What have I done to be so musically tormented?” I’d like to think myself part of that motley group of strangers who feels this way. Alternately, this song might be about someone who has naturally perfect pitch and can’t stand things being ever so slightly out of tune. I don’t know: take a stab at the lyrics yourself. And if you’re listening to the track, you can hear that tonally flat piano pattern laced alongside Emi’s beautiful, layered vocal harmonies.
Hitting the halfway point, one of the shorter tracks on the album (*only* 4 minutes … yeah, these songs are long), “Fish bowl” brings back that fantastic 6/8 rhythm and heavy bass. It’s almost the same tempo, but the chord progression is substantially different, so it’s not like Muneta and Evans are copying themselves. Following in line with the album’s extended metaphors, we experience the life of the fish in the fish bowl. When Emi sings “I keep on swimming with the light in my eyes / I feel there’s an end to this circle / I’ve got to stay awake til it’s over” … let’s just say, futility never sounded so awesome.
I have no idea what “Little Miss Emily” is about, but I can say that Emi is totally channeling Tori Amos on this track. Common-time swing rhythm, and those big interval gaps when she sings the word “funny” — it’s like a taste of “Cornflake Girl.” And then that non-lyrical improvisation at the end that follows the little keyboard pattern … man, so totally Tori. But still, so clearly freesscape.
Track 7 is my favorite on the album. It’s also the shortest, at 3 and a half minutes. The title is “Lost Wings.” The track opens with some really experimental samples played over that now-familiar 6/8 – 3/4 swing bass and drums. The lyrics to this one are simple, just two lines repeated: “My wings are gone and I am so free / Nothing to weigh me down.” The mixing on Emi’s vocals are absolutely divine. There’s no question in my mind that when the guys at Monaca had Emi sing for NieR, they had heard this song and meant to mimic its production in some of the slower pieces. Something about this piece makes me cry. The quickly-ticking clock, the way Emi sings the words “my wings,” the beautiful third harmonies occasionally bent into a major 2nd (or minor 7th) … brilliant, perfect, wonderful. I have nothing but praise for this song. I’m going to listen to it a few more times before finishing up this review. If you’ll excuse me…
Okay, I’m back. And wow, what a concept. Losing the wings to become free? I’m thinking of Feena and Reah from Ys now. Or, from a slightly less nerdy pop culture source, the last few minutes of Kevin Smith’s film “Dogma.” No burdens, no requirements to be angelic. Just “be” …
Gah, I’m having a really hard time going forward. The album could have closed on this track and I’d be fine. But there’s more, and it’s also quite good. Here we go!
“Mirage” is another simple song, lyrically, a song about longing and sending positive vibes to the one you love. “Momentary” wins the award for fastest tempo, and is a really upbeat and catchy song with another catchy refrain: “I can’t find my rhythm.” And then, finally, there’s “Dusty’s Mirror,” running out over 11 minutes. It’s a long one, and it’s got yet another strange, haunting lyric in it. I can’t get over this one: “You’ll dust up the dreaming and wipe me away.” Wait … I’m the dream in your life? Or I’m the dust that blocks your dreams?! Man. I should ponder that over an adagio 3/4 and one woman’s angelic voice. DONE!
Fragile Perfection is available in both digital and physical formats at CDBaby, as is the rest of their discography. You should buy all this music, but if you’re feeling really cheap and/or choosy, please at least pick up “Lost Wings” for $0.99. You’ll thank me.Tags: CDBaby, Emi Evans, fragile perfection, freesscape, Hiroyuki Muneta, Lost Wings, Lyrics, Metaphors, Pretty, Strange