Joakim - Samurai

by Joseph Majsterski Rating:6 Release Date:2017-03-17

Soothing. That's the first word that comes to mind when listening to 'In The Beginning', the opener on Samurai, the sixth album from French producer Joakim. Layers of steadily pulsing and folding synths build up slowly, and there's a strong sense of being in a peaceful glade, with birds and tinkling chimes mixed in here and there. The title track follows up with a different approach to establishing the same relaxed feeling. Gentle drums and effervescent synth work give the track more of a rainy vibe, and Joakim sings here, with a breathy but serviceable approach to his vocals.

The first single, 'Numb', is genius, with slick synths and a funky bass backing up Joakim's accented and pitch-shifted vocals. There's not much out there right now that sounds like this song, except possibly some of the most recent M83 album, Junk, which shares its early 80s haziness. In a way it makes sense, since it's quite possible Joakim led the way with some of his earlier forays into similar terrain on his 2014 release Tropics of Love. 'Cannibale Pastorale' is blissful, percolating along on bubbling waves of continuously modulating synths. 'Green Echo Mecca' is a delight, with chiming synths, chirping birds, and a general sense of harmony with nature making it quite relaxing and meditative. 'Not Because You're Sad' ups the tempo a bit, and brings in a soft saxophone to smooth some of the edginess in the syncopated synths, to great effect.

While there are some amazing highs to be found, the album is extremely uneven, with some downright goofy moments, such as the off-key falsettos and warbling in 'Mind Bent', which flop around on top of a vaguely Far Eastern melody. 'Time is Wrong' has vocals that sound like they bubbling up from under a pond, but not in a good way. And 'Exile' goes hog wild with the saxophone, with a wacky "solo" smack dab in the middle of the song. But after a lot of goofing around, Joakim pulls it back together for the last two tracks. 'Not Because You're Sad' is a clear, straightforward piece of synth delight, which manages to successfully use the horns, and 'Hope/Patience' echoes the opener with a lot of relaxed keys and piano.

It's hard to pin down the set and make a judgment. It's brilliant in places, but a lot of it is just damn weird, and the album as a whole is incredibly eclectic, flitting from electronic to retro-indie-funk to chill out to jazz to new age. It feels like for every song where the pieces come together into something amazing, there's another where it sounds like like he's just noodling around at his sound station. This is emphasized by how the album starts so strongly and mostly gets more and more confused as it progresses. But in a strange way, the album works on its own terms, eschewing expectations of what how group of songs released in a set together need to relate to each other. Joakim, no newbie, is clearly comfortable twisting around and playing with music for his own edification, and luckily, he's talented enough to pull it off, for the most part. For its uniqueness, if nothing else, Samurai is worth checking out.

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