It’s rare to come to an artist or piece of music with no preconceived notions, no point of reference or contextual concept of what to expect. In an age when the most minute information is merely a click away, we forgo genuine surprise in favor of a third party judgment of the art we consume well before we even have the chance to consume or formulate our own opinions (and, yes, I’m aware of the irony in a statement like that, this being a review designed to confirm whether or not this particular album is worth your time and consideration).

Whether it’s film, television or, especially, music, those of us who fervently consume pop culture do so with a bottomless appetite for ephemeral knowledge and assorted esoterica, often the more trivial the better. We seek out information prior to consumption, whether in the form of a review, label promotion or other font of information that provides us with the requisite facts and figures generally employed when making a decision as to whether or not something is worth our ever-diminishing free time.

As someone who considers the work of others, provides an often wildly subjective opinion – one with which many are apt to disagree – and generally spends disproportionate amounts of time considering such things, it’s not often I’m afforded the chance to come at something knowing nothing of the artist, their history, existing catalog or even preferred genre. So often are we inundated with press releases and label hype designed to sway even critical thought and opinion in advance of the formulation of an actual, self-conceived opinion, that genuine analysis without prior knowledge proves nearly impossible.

This is not to complain or disparage the information I’m often provided, as added context is often extremely beneficial in deciding just what to say about an album. But the problem with this is that the music itself – the actual music, how it sounds, how it makes the listener feel, etc. – gets lost in the particulars, RIYLs, obscurant references and general musical knowledge pissing matches that occurs between those who make it a practice to spend inordinate amounts of time poring over the work of others in order to create something of their own. In this, we lose sight of what is most important and the sole reason for such debates to exist in the first place: the music itself.

To simply press play and have no idea what to expect is a thrillingly liberating experience, one which brings the focus back where it belongs and affords the chance to simply listen instead of expound or pontificate. So when the sounds encountered are so transcendent as to be almost transformative in their simplicity and approach, it causes the critical mind to take a backseat to that primordial ear that was initially responsible for the infatuation that has ultimately led us here. There is nothing inherently remarkable about Asuna Arashi’s Tide Ripples. Yet that is just what’s so remarkable about it.

The music is sparse, relying on drones, slowly evolving melodies and wordless, ethereal vocals (courtesy of Rima Kato) that wend their way in and out of the decidedly linear music. Featuring two 20-plus minute tracks (with names nearly as long as their run time), each built around a fragile dronescape that ebbs and flows, Tide Ripples offers an almost meditatively satisfying listening experience. To say the listener loses themselves in the music would be a bit too trite, too simplistic an attempt at an explanation. Instead, it’s best to simply take in the music as it was intended, without bias, allowing it to wash over you, allowing your mind the space to wander along with Asuna’s gentle finger-style acoustic guitar.

Recorded piecemeal over the course of 10 years, the musical and stylistic cohesion that exists across both tracks speaks to the singularity of Asuna’s artistic vision. And while each features a suite-like compositional structure, the transitions are so fluid as to feel of the same recording session. “Her Fringe, Ferris Wheel, Ruins of Twisted Yarn” begins as a spritely solo acoustic guitar piece before collapsing in on itself, dropping to a minor key and relying on the droning decay of both Asuna’s guitar and Kato’s vocals. It’s an hallucinatory several moments that take the listener from the recognizable to the abstract so seamlessly the difference barely registers until it’s spun off into the ether. Only when the guitar reenters, this time electric and more pensive, does the listener begin to process the changes that have transpired.

Similarly structured, “Midnight Snow, Street Lights, Window of Empty Building” begins with an acoustic riff – this time dual tracked – that pushes the track forward. Taking the title at face value, this first movement acts as the aural personification of midnight snow, the notes driving in an unceasing flurry, accumulating on themselves and obscuring the landscape underneath. By the track’s halfway point, the relentlessly repetitive acoustic pattern has given way to a swirling, spiraling abstraction of sound. Here, Asuna adopts the inverse of the preceding track by shifting into a major mode, allowing the sound to brighten and open up into a vast expanse, the sound being expelled only to reverberate for what seems like well beyond infinity. As these give way to atmospheric drones and crackles, a high, swirling tone takes shape overhead. This, too, devolves even further into a fleeting memory of itself, enveloped by the sub-tones and gentle washes of sound.

Something more than music, Tide Ripples unwinds so organically you very nearly forget where it began and where it may well be headed. As the sounds begin to meld and flow into and through one another, they take on a life of their own, one which transcends space and time. With focused breathing and an open mind, Tide Ripples could well be the most important, mentally satisfying and transcendent 45 minutes you spend with yourself this year. Overly hyperbolic? Perhaps. But now that I’ve gone against everything I started out decrying, just try to approach the album without the niggling thought that this may well be the transformative listening experience you’ve been waiting for.

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