On "Tezukayama," the drums and synth duo draw on Matt Aguiluz's experience in Japan to create a lovely half-hour of art pop.
Matt Aguiluz of A Living Soundtrack lived in Japan from 2011 to 2013, and while there he was involved in a life-threatening car accident when a passenger van he and his wife were on collided with a dump truck. Two people on the van died and Aguiluz had to be hospitalized with ruptured intestines. That experience led to Tezukayama, the new, half-hour long EP from the electronic duo—the first since 2011.
You might get the Japan part of Tezukayama’s backstory listening to it. The synths from different eras is a giveaway, and they actually mimic the sound of a koto in “Renketsu no Katsudai.” The car accident is less obvious because there’s little trauma in the EP’s sound. Instead, it often percolates in a psychedelic, dreamy, electronic haze. Maybe it mirrors the narcotics, or maybe the music soundtracks Aguiluz’s experience in a less literal way. For that reason, Tezukayama stands on its own. Listeners don’t need to know what inspired it to appreciate the EP.
Throughout, sonic textures layer atop one another to create a synthetic sound that evokes not the future but a high-gloss, present-day cityscape. Marshall Flaig’s percussion loops crackle with street energy that pushes along the interlocking melodic and harmonic patterns played by Aguiluz. “Nanika ni Yoru” sets skittering percussion against a fragile, 8-bit melody that carries just enough melancholy to temper the fluorescent brightness of the chiptune notes. “Kuramo Kodo” uses an ‘80s synth funk bass to construct a groove under a robotically processed voice, and the combination brings to mind Pittsburgh psych-funk fans Black Moth Super Rainbow.
That vibe is new for A Living Soundtrack. "Video Game, The Movie" from 2011's How to Grow a City is the closest track to those on Tezukayama, but then the 8-bit melody was the focal point. Tezukayama presents that sound as part of the EP's broad sonic palate. Fewer tracks feature moments that sound like samples, and there are fewer nods in the direction of actual soundtrack music. Despite its name, A Living Soundtrack isn't really in the soundtrack business. Certainly on Tezukayama, the core impulses are too pop to work as a conventional soundtrack. The new EP is inspired by real events the same way that a million love songs are, and the songs were crafted into stand-alone pieces of music in the same way all those love songs were. The band’s name invites listeners to take A Living Soundtrack at its word, but Tezukayama is simply beautiful, engaging art pop.