I am a fan of Asahi's album "Head above water" (2002) but next I never really enjoyed what Tomo Nakayama did after with his project Grand Hallway: too orchestral, too sirupy, too melodic for me.
But the third album of this Seattle band, "Winter Creatures" is an intrinsically different affair.
It's the kind of redemption you rarely meet, it happened for my case for Saso with "Exitudes" or for A Weather with "Everyday balloons", this is the story of songwriters who through new experiences and explorations return to their own corpus of emotions and renew their depth and come to term with their own intimate melancholic sensitivity.
"Winter creatures" isn't a return to the Asahi days, nor it is the true continuation of Grand Hallway.
It is more of the same but in a different manner. After an gap of almost ten years, I find myself totally enjoying Tomo Nakayama's songwriting once again just as if nothing happened inbetween.
More than on the previous Grand Hallway records there is a lot of place dedicated to melancholy, slowness and intimacy on this one, and the orchestral parts which are more sparse add often just the necessary enchantment.
You only need the first track to discover that something is indeed happening, "Winter Creatures", is a short (2:46) but extremely superb song built in two parts, one of lament and longing and a second of full exploding joy, both slow with a perfect balance between tension and release and a wonderful vocal melody.
Certain songs are more classic but are still pleasant, like a comforting presence in the background, "Apple Tree","Oh Yes (Stay Alive, My Dear)", "Fourths",
I much more prefer when they are attacking, giving more emotion and fever like on "Wildfire" where he ends up singing "Oh well, I don't want don't die", mixing energy and despair.
Another success is "North Cascades" which stars in a very minor way, slow acoustic guitar with sparse folk vocals, then it turns into an orchestral demonstrative melody, which is difficult to bear, but suddenly everything stops and just in the middle of the song, after three minutes of bore, a miracle happens and an impressive and remarkable song unfolds for the last three minutes. Well done.
One immediate pleasure is "Little sister", a song in weightlessness, moving through clouds, passing through the sky. Later there is the opulent "Father's Clothes" which strangely reminds me of Jane Siberry. The last track closes the album on a lighter note, "Roscoe (What A Gift)", a delicate and soothing lullaby about hearing music coming from the next room.
It is not a perfect album but most of these songs are strong and the whole record is addictive and a perfect companion for going through winter.
A few ones, "Winter creatures", "Wildfire", and "North Cascades", will deserve entering your playlist of long-term keepers.