There can be moments as you are listening to ‘Intergalactic Warp Terminal 222’, Lionmilk’s absorbing new album on Leaving Records, when you feel like an intruder, sneaking into the musician’s back room in LA as he sketches and explores. After all Moki Kawaguchi (aka Lionmilk) admits that his music is a singular pursuit, an investigation of sounds, loops, spoken word and electronic experiments recorded alone for his own well-being. Or “Music to feel less whack to” as he puts it. But then you think again. Lionmilk is sharing here, opening up his personal moments, inviting you into his ‘Intergalactic Warp Terminal 222’ and he’s intrigued by what you might find there.
It feels like that exchange is at the heart of Kawaguchi’s new record, the album comes from an ambient place which is open to the listener’s perspective. It’s experimental, not in the tuneless, fractured sense, but because the songs and instrumental pieces have not been shaped to make you ‘feel’ a certain thing. These warm, heartfelt, brief lo-fi soul-jazz meditations made in the moment are what Lionmilk was feeling then and the challenge is for us to run with it now. He has made an album that is ‘out-there’ even ‘expansive’ but not in the orthodox sense, in a low key, gentle sort of way.
Moulded together into a continuous hour-long spin may also make the prospect of ‘Intergalactic Warp Terminal 222’ sound daunting but the variety and invention relieves the album from ever being a slog. Of course there are brushes of lapping electronica throughout the record but each stroke makes its own mark. For early evidence take the shimmer of ‘daily I dream’ as it drifts between the pastoral and regal or the melodic swoon of ‘lesson in thanks’ with it’s delicate, gliding synth melody. Then there’s the Japanese toned purity of ‘lover’s theme’ played with a Yoshimura poise or the more intense, orchestral drone of ‘can’t give it up now’. This is not heavily layered instrumental music weighed down with technology but a sort of stripped back, rootsy new age…simple, succinct and refreshing.
Elsewhere Lionmilk sprinkles piano miniatures into the ‘Intergalactic’ soundscape, introducing some nu-jazz understatement. The birdsong and relaxed rolling trills from his electric keys on ‘gifts’ set up the sunshine and solitude while ‘shaneen’ floats silkily on a chiming Rhodes stream. He also makes sure that there are plenty of subtle surprises nestling within the broad sweep of tunes. The flutes and fluttering harps make ‘momma’s smile’ beam with pleasure as it waltzes along while the reverberating vibes and classic soul hints on the yearning ’you are with me always’ make you sit up. It’s like Erroll Garner playing inside a heavy cloud.
Stepping back from listening to ‘Intergalactic Warp Terminal 222’ you realise there is much more than fine musical detailing going on here. This is a record where the narrative unfolds, a revealing diary of a day, a week, maybe a year for Moki Kawaguchi, the ups but also the downs. Often melodies get punctured with buzzes and shocks, the loops stutter and glitch, tunes just stop. With the suggestive and sumptuous ‘no question’ in full Beach Boys ballad flow, Lionmilk wickedly pulls the plug with an abrupt announcement “Auto – signal interrupted, we are re-establishing contact“. It’s a stark wake up from his misty vocals and sultry “there’s no question that you want me” whispering, a sudden, eyes open, back-to-reality moment maybe.
Such tension, between dreams and everyday stresses, inner thoughts and outer living, gives Lionmilk’s album an emotional energy that on the surface could be missed. Just step back and look at the track titles (‘delicate heart’, ‘talk to me’, ‘it’s all in your head’, ‘I won’t give up’) for signposts to the struggles that are being laid out for us here. Perhaps the retro sci-fi album title, for all its quirky escapism, is really an ironic bluff, a disguise to cover a deeply personal record.
It’s that emotional intricacy which the sprinkling of songs on ‘Intergalactic Warp Terminal 222’ highlight further. Superficially upbeat, almost schmaltzy, ‘treat yourself like a friend’ is no sugary meme, it’s matter-of-fact and uneasy with despair. At one point Lionmilk’s assurances (“I‘m over it” and “I’ll do my best, I promise”) sound wearily empty. That same ambiguity rattles through the chunky electro bossa of ‘anxious thing’ where the upbeat promises of support and friendship ring true but also seem hollow. Even the gorgeous closing ballad ‘i’ll love you forever’ brings an uneasy resolution with the admission that despite such feelings “I need to recover/I need time alone”. Necessarily the song and the album ends with a sigh.
‘Intergalactic Warp Terminal 222’ for all it’s understatement and introversion, for all its shyness and simplicity doesn’t dodge any issues. Profoundly honest and open, Lionmilk has made a record that anyone will want to live with for a long time.
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