Atobe tracks are rarely content to simply live in primordial soup.
When unknown producer Shinichi Atobe released Ship-Scope in 2001 on the great dub techno label Chain Reaction, a lot of people thought it was a ruse. Chain Reaction puts almost no emphasis on ego; this is a label with a signee named “Various Artists,” it seemed totally plausible Atobe could’ve been an alias for one of the other producers on the label, like Vainqueur. Butterfly Effect, released in 2014 after a 13-year absence, made clear there’s no mistaking him for anyone else.
Though we now know he lives in Saitama, Japan, Atobe still exists in shadow, rarely DJing and refusing to grant interviews. But his tracks speak so strongly for themselves an interview hardly seems necessary. I imagine Atobe as a quiet, soft-spoken man, reclusive less for Burial-style cool than to be able to lead a comfortable life without having to jet around the world and play gigs. I imagine he prefers clouds to sun, takes long walks at night, records in front of windows so he can look out at the endless sprawl of the world. Maybe he works as a lighthouse keeper.
I say this because Atobe reminds me a lot of Phil Elverum, the auteur behind Mount Eerie and the Microphones. Both live in foggy mystery amid portentous minor chords. Elverum often shrouds his songs in noise; Atobe subducts his own tracks with incongruously loud sounds like sub-bass suction on “Free Access Zone 3” or the violent yet oddly weightless clattering sound that suspends itself in the middle of “The Waste Land 2.” Both make music so ramshackle, seemingly hewn by water and wind, that the most incongruous touches serve the same function as a Coke can in some crude found-object sculpture.
Atobe tracks are rarely content to simply live in primordial soup. They bang around, fall apart, corrode, get in the way. Though he likes to let a deep pad simmer beneath the surface of his tracks (Drake might’ve borrowed one of these pads for his More Life doodle “Nothings Into Somethings”), this isn’t ambient music. There’s an unmistakable presence to the tracks on Butterfly Effect, and when they creep towards the ten-minute mark there’s a sense of grandeur.
The big prog epic on Butterfly Effect is the title track. If that stab of electric piano sounds disarming at first, after a few listens we come to anticipate it, and its entrance a minute or so in comes on with the bombast of a big guitar solo. We relish the individual sounds on Butterfly Effect—those backmasked voices that come out of the mist on “Free Access Zone 6” and “Free Access Zone 8,” that chord on “Free Access Zone 7” that sounds like someone slamming their hand into a wooden table, the bassline on “Free Access Zone 2” that sounds like the resigned buzzing of a stuck mosquito. After the album’s over, those sounds gestate in our memory like great pop hooks.
The record’s 58 minutes deepen not by making us forget what we’re hearing but by taking us through stranger landscapes. It’s front-to-back the most satisfying Atobe release, though there’s nothing as beautiful as on the fog-drenched desolation of Ship-Scope. Whether this was curated by DDS from a vast archive or selected carefully from the artist is unknown. I prefer to think it washed up on a beach somewhere, a little battered and beaten-up but intact enough to stick in a CD player.