Album Appreciation: The Golden Pond by Upupayāma

Some of the highs and lows of this year have, for me, involved Kikagaku Moyo… a fantastic new album in ‘Kumoyo Island‘ and two sensational nights of live music in London back in June… but also the knowledge that these would be my last novel interactions with a band who were going into a ‘long-term hiatus’…

I mention this straight off the bat because Upupayāma, the work of Italian multi-instrumentalist Alessio Ferrari, is very much of the same ilk as the great Japanese band. This, for me, is a very good thing because it is both music that scratches the same sort of itch, as I have already mentioned in my piece on the Upupayāma debut release (which is being repressed by Cardinal Fuzz (UK/ Europe), Centripetal Force (North America) in conjunction with this new album), but is also very much its own thing… and more than that, there is more chance of getting new music and, hopefully, even live performances in the future: since Ferrari has been putting a touring band together and will hopefully be coming round Europe in 2023.

‘The Golden Pond’, then, is the second Upupayāma release and brings together the same Eastern and Western Folk traditions as its predecessor… but perhaps in a tighter and more considered way… building on its forerunner. Some of this might just be context because that first album was one of those rare things that came totally out of the blue and, as a result had a massive impact on me. This one has expectations attached to it and… I have to say… after a good few listens now… is really hitting me hard as well.

It kicks off with ‘Cuckoos from the House of Golden Tin’… which begins in a wonderfully soft folky way… the vocals silkily leading the way forward… the title presumably refers to the sleeve art… with the whole thing making me imagine that the musician has come across this artefact… this tin with a beautiful picture on it… and wishes to reflect on its beauty… then after around four minutes… all hell breaks loose… maybe the tin is opened and the contents come bursting out… this is what I get as a listener with a massive heavy sequence which initially takes you by surprise, but which is so full of energy and vibrance… only to settle backing a reflective mood again… and we are finally left in a state of peace again… with this captivating item… this lovely tin…

From there we segue seamlessly into ‘Entering the Time of Wilderness’ which is a relatively short but wonderfully formed piece which, for the most part, is a vocal/ acoustic guitar duet… with a hazy full-band denoument which sets the first part of the song off well… together the first two tracks feel like something of a ‘mini-suite’ which really prepares the listener for what is to come…

…and this is ‘Más’, which is one of the tracks released in advance of the album… ‘Más’ is far more complex and upbeat than what has gone before, and is perhaps designed to get you up on your feet, such are its infectious beats and essential funkiness… and as we move forward there are some lovely flourishes from guitar and flute… with even some sitar sounds buried deep in the mix which add a further Eastern flavour to the already cosmopolitan mix which you could perhaps describe as ‘far Eastern salsa’.

After that ‘Come Here, Noriko’ brings us back down a bit with its easy melancholia which underlines for me how well mixed and arranged this whole album is. Listening to some digital files through headphones I can very much hear how many layers of instrumentation there are here… and how much of it is constantly changing as the track (again in common with the rest of the album) shape-shifts seamlessly as it progresses… and that is one of the things that I really like about it… the way it veers into different moods even within a number.

‘At The Fairie Bower’ is perhaps as Kikagaku as it gets here… it feels like a real homage in many ways, especially to classic track ‘Smoke and Mirrors’… I like the recognisable refrain which pays-off well against the other more novel parts of the track which nicely centres me around its overall feel, which is a sort of chilled out enchantment that persists into ‘Ergobando’ before lighting the thrusters and powering away from the spell that was cast over us… this is a much more robust interlude which resets the mind before the more serious, if ambient, tones of ‘El Sueño de la Curandera’… which feels more spatial and considered… before a new vibrancy rises up, seemingly from deep inside the music to take us off on a new journey of discovery… to, it turns out, somewhere quite eerie… where we are perhaps lost on the water… a sense of haunting isolation taking hold to the end.

This ends with ‘Sata me Pani’ which seems to me to introduce some krauty elements to the mix… including its seemingly random shifting through also sorts of moody and genre… in a sense it’s like a speeded-up microcosm of the album more broadly… but, like the album more broadly, really works for me… it somehow keeps the mind on its toes but all the transitions feel smooth and natural when perhaps there is a rationality that says they shouldn’t.

Last up is ‘Ballad of Mugho’ which is a tranquil way to finish off and bring us out of the reality-shifting world that is Upupayāma. In fact it is the only number that remains relatively constant throughout its length… a downbeat ballad that perhaps yearns for a more simple and down-to-earth live as it deposits us back into the ‘real’ world again.

This is another absolutely marvellous collection of songs from Upupayāma… as suggested above, its strength lies in its eclecticism, not only throughout the album, but within tracks as well… but, and here’s the point, it all hangs together very well creating a sort of looser alternative reality where you can let your mind expand and become more malleable as you are taken from scene to scene and invited to create your own narratives… which, no doubt, will be different on each occasion.

‘The Golden Pond’ is out on Cardinal Fuzz (UK/ Europe), Centripetal Force (North America), along with an new re-press of the Upupayāma debut album.



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