|Smile Down Upon Us
|Smile Down Upon Us
Smile Down Upon Us — Smile Down Upon Us≡ Littlebow’s multi–instrumentalist Kieran Phelan and Japanese singer and programmer Moomloo are the crux of this upcoming RSD release. Vinyl only and set to be issued on the micro–label Wiaiwya, Smile Down Upon Us is by turns pretty and elegiac, charming yet challenging and blissfully soft–focussed in its approach. Found sounds, spoken passages, drifting melodies and simple beats culminate in an organic journey through art–folk and anti–pop that is both enlightening and appealing to anyone who got a bit moist at the last Littlebow project. It doesn’t all gel perfectly but there’s still plenty to admire and reason enough to spend hours queuing outside a record store for on April 18th.
≡ Created over email, a collaboration eschews cold technology, embracing colder weather and a desire to be indoors. Paul PLEDGER, 20/04/2015, Score: 70/100
Location: London, UK ~~ Tokyo, Japan
Album release: April 18th, 2015
Genre: Folktronic, Indie Folk, Female Vocal
Record Label: Wiaiwya
N°.: WIADL 036
1. One Feathered Shoal 5:32
2. Took By Crows 4:03
3. Magical Breath 3:37
4. Dance With The Silver 6:17
5. Butterfly Morning 2:06
6. Gusano's Travels 6:04
7. Dragon Song 3:20
8. Millwall 5:07
9. Powam Song 4:39 "Anime illustrations tell innocent stories as the music breezes around in the late spring day". © 2015 wiaiwya
♠ To say that Smile Down Upon Us’s self–titled second full–length would likely appeal as much to children as adults shouldn’t be construed as disparagement but rather as high praise. It’s not easy to create music that’s playful and filled with childlike wonderment without sounding twee, but that’s exactly the trick London–based multi–instrumentalist Keiron Phelan and Tokyo–resident singer/electronicist moomLoo pull off on their excellent sophomore effort. That sense of playfulness isn’t limited to their music, either: the duo’s 2008 debut album, recorded in its entirety through file exchange, was also eponymously titled.
♠ The new recording’s filled with unexpected left turns, and just when you think you know where a particular song’s heading it takes you by surprise.
♠ A case in point is “One Feathered Shoal,” a lilting reverie that initially hints the album might be headed in an ambient–field recordings direction when moomLoo recites a poem against a backdrop of nature sounds. But a shift in tone quickly occurs when Phelan’s baritone appears to intone the same words but this time accompanied by acoustic guitar, electronic textures, and woodwinds.
♠ The entrancement doesn’t stop there, but instead carries on for the full forty–one–minute measure of the nine–song collection. Rich in acoustic guitars, woodwinds, vocals (Japanese and English), and electronic touches, each song arrangement exemplifies a careful consideration of mood and attention to detail. In that regard Phelan and moomLoo are abetted on the project by, among others, guitarist/percussionist David Sheppard (Phelan’s partner in State River Widening), cellist Katie English, and sonic alchemist Tui (Orla Wren). That makes for a recording so rich that moments arise during “Dance With the Silver,” for instance, that wouldn’t sound out of place on Pet Sounds.
♠ With moomLoo’s joyful vocal leading the way and flutes and psychedelic synthesizer treatments close behind, “Magical Breath” charms with an infectious, child–like spirit. That light–hearted tone infuses “Dragon Song” with a similar kind of joy, so much so that one could easily picture Phelan and moomLoo singing its lyrics with a classroom of children. On “Butterfly Morning” (a cover of a song from the soundtrack to Sam Peckinpah’s The Ballad of Cable Hogue), Phelan and moomLoo memorably pair up for the vocal, with his deep voice an effective contrast to her soft coo.
♠ Numerous genres and styles are referenced along the way. Reggae rhythms animate “Millwall” to give the album an unusual twist, for instance, while the jaunty “Dragon Song” flirts with jazz in its swinging clarinet solo. Things take another surprising turn when a funk drum pattern surfaces to power “Gusano’s Travels,” a vocal song that includes robotic counting in Polish (neither of which Keiron nor moomLoo speak, naturally).
≡ Just what the world needs — another twee Japanese electronica record, but Smile Down Upon Us are no ordinary act. Rather this is the meeting of two acts on two different sides of the world, Phelan Sheppard (Leaf) in London and moomLooo in Tokyo who collaborated via email to create this haunting disc. Initially the two bands met on Myspace but this soon flowered into a full–blown collaboration despite the acts never having conversed and knowing next to nothing about each other. This sense of mystery is somehow conveyed in the music which is tentative, surreal and at times naïve, blending electronic and acoustic instrumentation and all draped in moomLooo's gorgeous voice. Fans of the Tenniscoats and Piana need to check this without delay, but rather than stick to the Japanese mode Smile Down Upon Us the sound seems to have been enlarged into a luscious cinematic widescreen. Good stuff.
≡ The second album from UK/Japanese group Smile Down Upon Us is released by wiaiwya on deluxe vinyl, in a delightful gatefold sleeve illustrated by artist Yuji Maruyama, on Record Store Day, April 18 (a CD version is released in Japan soon after). It’s a delicate, intimate, playful record that’s equal parts Cibo Matto pop, Vernon Elliott soundtrack and animated Marc Chagall painting, its music a perfect navigation between childlike wonderment, impish eccentricity and sophisticated intricacy.
≡ Smile Down Upon Us is the duo of London–based multi–instrumentalist Keiron Phelan (littlebow, Phelan–Sheppard, Silver Servants, etc.) and Tokyo–resident singer/electronicist moomLoo. They are assisted on this album by, among others, guitarist/percussionist David Sheppard (Ellis Island Sound, Snow Palms, and Keiron’s erstwhile partner in renowned UK post–rockers State River Widening), cellist Katie English (Isnaj Dui, Doomed Bird of Providence, littlebow) and nomadic sonic alchemist Tui (Orla Wren).
≡ Brimming with invention and gleaming instrumentation, the album proffers a cavalcade of plangent acoustic plucking, mellifluous woodwinds and head–spinning electronica topped–off with moomLoo’s sweetly exotic, acrobatic vocals and Keiron’s contrastingly declamatory baritone. Fans of Tunng, Psapp, Tenniscoats, World Standard, Lucky Dragons and Contact Field Orchestra will all find plenty to wet their whistles here.
≡ moomLoo and Keiron were first introduced via social media and recorded the entire first Smile Down Upon Us album (which was also eponymously titled) by exchanging files and without ever meeting in person. That album was released in 2008, to much critical acclaim, by Static Caravan in the UK and by Yacca/P–Dis in Japan, since when Keiron and moomLoo have been in the same room precisely twice.
≡ So, while it’s not quite Lost in Translation, part of the allure of the new album is in its own internal mystery and playful inscrutability. Its lyrics are sometimes delivered in Japanese, at others in English, and Keiron, who speaks no Japanese, generally has little idea what moomLoo (who commands only limited English) is actually singing about. These things, however, Keiron knows for sure:
≡ The insanely catchy ‘Millwall’ is about a Japanese girl–gang who live in London and become unlikely football hooligans (while claiming they are no such thing).
≡ ‘Gusano’s Travels’ is about the worm in the bottom of a Mexican tequila bottle going on holiday and being too inebriated to build a leaf house(!) — the counting is in Polish (which neither Keiron nor moomLoo speak), and a nod to the Hans Christian Anderson ‘Inchworm’ song.
≡ ‘The gorgeous ‘Butterfly Morning’, meanwhile, is a cover of a song on the soundtrack to the Sam Peckinpah western, The Ballad of Cable Hogue.
≡ Ultimately, exact meanings and precise definitions are not what this beguiling, multi–hued album is all about; but for anyone with open enough ears and room in their heart, it’s a record that offers a seductive, dream–like world that is joy to be immersed in again and again. ≡ https://soundcloud.com/wiaiwya/sets/smile-down-upon-us
Blog: http://smiledownuponus.blogspot.co.uk/ // Label: http://wiaiwya.com/ / Bandcamp: http://wiaiwya.bandcamp.com/album/smile-down-upon-us
By Mike Deri Smith
|Smile Down Upon Us
|Smile Down Upon Us