Self-described as “Tokyo-born, NYC stuck”, electronic artist Ken Herman, or Exitpost, gets an Exeposé look-in as a friend of trendy, Exeter-based, electronic pals Delmer Darion and grooves in the same wave of post-Aphex Twin, post-Kanye bedroom producers that grew with the increased accessibility of Macbooks and Logic Pro. The availability of electronic music and it’s mountain of subgenres makes for one of the most disposable and ephemeral music scenes, with much fewer big names pound for pound than other genre, however it is also the most consistently artful. It is a sad state of affairs when a lot of subtle and beautifully crafted music is treated with some of the most flippant scrutiny. The question is how to make distinctive electronic music, and even more so, how to make it distinctive as well as subtle and ambient, as is Exitpost’s want. The good news is that Ken has an answer. The Nami EP shows not only the expected talented craftsmanship of a bedroom auteur, but also a sensitive edge and, most strikingly, a delicate blend of styles that distinguishes it while still maintaining the subtlety of well-crafted down-tempo electronica at the same time.
within half a minute It sounds like childhood in japan
This eclecticism is best understood when looking at Herman’s personal life. Obviously the circumstances of a song’s creation aren’t always relevant and can be invasive, but if we’re trying to justify an EP as exceptional, every little helps. Herman was born in Japan but lived most of his life in New York. He penned Nami while revisiting Japan so the EP sounds like nostalgic love letter to his original homeland. It might be easy when approaching Nami to pin it down as an homage to Japan in this way; the artwork grainily foregrounds beautiful Tsutsuji flowers indigenous to Japan after all. But the vaguely unnatural and hazy light in the background represents the EP’s edge. The intro begins with natural sounds recorded in Japan before a twinklingly timbrous xylophone sounds a rudimentary melody. This xylophone riffage becomes more complicated in layers and ambient dreamy harmonies creep in. So far so good. Within half a minute it sounds like childhood in Japan, already an impressive feat, but we have established that this kind of beautiful craft is unfortunately too commonplace to celebrate alone. However the intro ends with the quiet introduction of a blunt, thudding bass, snuck in with more organic woody percussive sounds. A distinctly electronic synth wobbles and we realise we have more on our hands.
The next track, “Dance With Me” sees Japanese singer Unmo switching between English and Japanese lyrics. I may be reading too much into this, and having spoken to Ken myself on Facebook I could certainly ask him what he expressly intended as he is a thoroughly lovely chap. But to me it seems the EP is conceptual in that production becomes increasingly “American”. This “mid-Pacific” sound and the two countries’ interaction with each other, is what makes this a thoroughly interesting listen in light of Herman’s multicultural background. The beautiful, quintessentially Japanese lilting is maintained by Unmo, but the introduction of English lyrics, the stuttering snare beat, snippets of technological electro sounds, as well as a “woo!” sample that is certainly not Japanese, complicate the soundscapes originally made of nursery rhyme melodies and ambient Japanese crooning. This contrast really hits you at the end of the song, as the carefully layered ambience is stripped away and replaced with a gorgeous, gentle guitar riff in the vein of Radiohead’s Johnny Greenwood (according to Ken) as Unmo chants. Mr. Post contrasts very “Japanese” feeling, emotionally reflective ditties, with distinctly Anglo-American ones. The sentiments of both styles match, but they feel as different as their countries.
“Birthmark” further conflates the American and Japanese sounds; introducing New York based singer Bay Kee and a beat that is more in line with peppy American house, against a backdrop of the same childish, twinkling melodies and mystical Japanese resonances. Bay Kee’s repetition of “I saw a birthmark on your skin, even though no one noticed it” matches Unmo’s sensitive “show a heart…let’s dance with tender song” sung in Japanese. But the repetition of Bay Kee’s “I saw”, in a similar high register, in front of dreamy ambience makes it sound a lot like Unmo’s previous delivery, a clever blurring of Japanese and American vocals. It’s a stylish and subtle meeting of East and West. “Comfortable”, the final song drives my point home. Ken himself begins singing in conversation with Unmo. The contrast of accents and the loving exchange comes with the most effortless blend. At the risk of sounding disgustingly pretentious, “Comfortable” furthers the cross-national blending as each lover sings about their comfort and their mutual physicality, mirroring the sonic chemistry. The lyrics are inspired by a girl he once met in Japan and these are love songs at their core but they also feel like a tribute to the Ken’s own multiculturalism as he attempts to get back in touch with his Japanese heritage.
Nami Shines with its gorgeous, intricate textures
Conceptually the EP is interesting and cleverly executed but is not without its flaws. Nami would benefit from more appropriate pacing. With all the songs clocking in just over three minutes, the ability to create a subtle dreamy soundscape is restricted. And at times so many different musical micro-segues start and stop that it feels slightly erratic without time to ease into them. Similarly, the times when the EP shines, when the contrast between the styles is felt strongly, are teasingly few, although too much variation would undermine the ambient, dreamlike nature of the EP. Fundamentally Nami shines with its gorgeous, intricate textures, and finds a clever and standout way to align these textures with it’s themes that are both cross-cultural and personal, hugely impressive in an EP just over 10 minutes long. Absolutely worth a listen!
EDIT: Ken Herman has since decided to donate 100% of the profits from the EP to AAR Japan in light of the disasters in Kyushu.