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Toshifumi Hinata: Broken Belief

Toshifumi Hinata: Broken Belief

Leans more to the new age end of the spectrum, so you might have to be in the right mindset for it to work its magic on your ears.

Toshifumi Hinata: Broken Belief

3.25 / 5

Ambient composer and multi-instrumentalist Toshifumi Hinata crossed whole worlds, both musically and geographically, before he found his voice. He was born in Tokyo but studied at Boston’s Berklee College of Music and the University of Minnesota Duluth. But he became disillusioned with his classical training and returned to Japan in 1982. He would go on to compose for television, but in the mid-‘80s he released several albums of haunting electronic music made with what were then new analog synthesizers. Its title suggesting a break with tradition, Broken Belief compiles tracks from albums Hinata made between 1985 and 1987. While some of its elements seem tied to its era, its charms are hard to resist.

The title track from his 1985 debut, “Sarah’s Crime” begins the set as something of a pleasant anomaly. Dreamlike synth washes and an atmospheric beat establish a clean and steady foundation, much in line with the gentle precision that marks much of the album. But a lead keyboard line, its timbre in a low register that resembles a church organ, seems conversational and tentative. The effect is of improvisation, not in the sense of weaving melodies out of chord changes but of thinking out loud with stops and starts. The approach suggests that Sarah’s transgression is one of nonconformity.

The lead track is unconventional ambient music that leans away from perfection, its idiosyncrasy providing a different kind of meditative fodder. On the other hand, the delicate, shimmering timbres that open “Ikoku No Onna Tachi” take on a folklike melody with dreamlike synths in a way that recalls Joe Hisaishi’s scores for the films Hayao Miyazaki. Appropriately enough, the title translates to “The Kids.” The six-and-a-half-minute track plays its melody out out with atmospheric electronics before shifting to a simpler, nearly acoustic arrangement, and that shift seems to plot out, in miniature, a bittersweet melodrama.

That emotional tone runs through much of Broken Belief. While most tracks run over four minutes, even the under-two-minute fragment “Shinkiroh” suggests a programmatic narrative. This could be library music, filed under haunting or wistful, with a particularly ‘80s texture. The nearly eight-minute title track begins with a synthesized choir and bell-like electronic chimes before the layers of washes become glassy. It’s beautiful stuff, but the ‘80s production can make it seem artificial and almost kitschy, like a plastic landscape with an LED waterfall.

This is the latest release to come around in the wake of Light in the Attic’s anthology Kankyō Ongaku, an essential introduction to Japanese ambient and new age music of the ‘80s. The subgenre flourished during an economic boom that saw Japanese corporations giving free rein to a group of experimental electronic musicians who shared a tranquil and for the most part minimalist aesthetic. The most enduring examples of this music, like Satoshi Ashikawa’s Still Way (Wave Notation 2) are timeless and essential. Broken Belief leans more to the new age end of the spectrum, so you might have to be in the right mindset for it to work its magic on your ears.

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