CD, Square Root Records, 2008
Charming is the first word that comes to mind when describing Tokyo Morose’s “Specific Ocean”. Lots of beautifully layered instruments, including some you rarely hear, like the glockenspiel that creates most of the melody in “Hump Full of Glitter”. This is stripped down electronica with massive pop sensibilities. It’s intelligent pop music, full of charm and character that you can’t help but fall in love with.
Tokyo Morose was formed in 2007 by Trevor Edmonds and Tim Warren, joined later on, in 2007, by Erin Lenau. “Specific Ocean” was actually released at the end of 2008, so I’m somewhat sad that it has taken this long to discover this little gem.
“Specific Ocean” is a double-disc release from Square Root Records, but I found the second disc to be mostly for completists. It sounded to me like lots of original mixes, or sections of original mixes that eventually found their way into the songs that make up the first disc. Not to say it isn’t worthwhile listening to how the second came together, it just isn’t as easy to get into as the first, and seems somewhat sketchy due to the incomplete sounds.
The first CD of “Specific Ocean” is beautiful, though. Starting with “Lazy Boys and Girls”, which is mostly comprised of a viola, guitars and a simple drumbeat that keeps the rhythm flowing. Erin’s vocals here had a touch of melancholy that is simple but haunting, and only takes up the last 20 seconds of the song. The line ‘You on a boat in the middle of the sea, please don’t forget about me’ is sweet, yet sad at the same time. As mentioned previously, “Hump Full of Glitter” rides on this lovely glockenspiel sound, “Women Who Can’t Say No” starting on the quietest shivering cymbal sound crashing straight in with some stunning guitar work and ends with viola. As much as I have described “Specific Ocean” as electronica, it probably has more in line with classical music, although a modern interpretation of it. The electronics they do use are subtle and balanced, yet aren’t to be ignored. In “Cover Up For Gramps” you can hear a slight, electronic drum beat, and yes, a return to the glockenspiel and viola. Tokyo Morose seems to favour these instruments, and I can understand why as they seem to epitomise this sweetness tinged with sadness sound. “Legal Bedroom” is possibly the darkest sounding track on the release, leading with what sounds like an organ with the viola, and it seems terribly unsettling, nestled in the middle of everything. “One Wheel Appeal” is much smoother and has some more vocals layered in the background that sound like souls wailing from somewhere else entirely. Finishing track “Here’s the Man” brings us back to the earlier sweetness, but has a more indie rock sound to it as they really unleash their energy here until slowing it down to Erin’s beautiful vocals again – the lyrics are real tear jerkers!
In all, I love how everything sounds so simple yet sad, and at the same time, how uplifting it is. Fans of Psapp, Secret Mommy, and in some respects the less electronic-based parts of Kilowatts and Vanek will really enjoy this release. Anyone who likes minimal use of electronics will also appreciate what it has to offer. It is charming, sweet, sad and beautiful, but ultimately very rewarding.
– Kate Turgoose