A new album by Ryuichi Sakamoto, if I'm not wrong his first sign of life since 2015 not being a soundtrack album.
12 is an instrumental album, one might call it ambient, but it is more that that. The twelve tracks have no titles, they are named after dates, in (nearly) chronological order between March 2021 and April 2022, and it's impossible not to see them connected to Ryuichi's fight against now three cancer deseases (larynx, colon, lung). So this album can be listened to as a sort of acoustic diary.
He was seen as a sort of piano wonder, but he decided not to take the classical road. Since his first solo album (1000 Knives of Ryuichi Sakamoto) from 1978, Ryuichi discovered synthesizers and all kinds of electronics, solo and with his band, the Yellow Magic Orchestra, he provided a wide field of electronic pop that never fell flat, he wrote a dozen of soundtracks for TV and film, he worked with musicians specializing in renaissance music as well as with symphony orchestras. Probably at home he is seen as a sort of Japanese David Bowie.
The album is quiet, sometimes very quiet. Electronic sounds come up first, flying by, later tentatively a piano mingles in. The piano has been recorded extremely close-up, you can hear Ryuichi's breathing sometimes, also the piano pedals can be heard a couple of times.
Sometimes the electronic sounds morph into piano sounds, sometimes it's the other way round, todays digital room simulation and processing methods make it impossible to be sure about the basic sound source. It's interesting how the piano mingles with electronics, especially the way Ryuichi follows the overtones of the piano strings by pumping up their volume when their sound decays. The piano in Track 6 (20220207) indicates the Dies Irae, and some very unpleasant sinus tones like tinnitus sounds evolve from it -- a very strong moment. You can feel what's behind it.
As said, one might call this ambient music. But don't be wrong, this record is not background music. It needs to be listened to carefully and concentrated. But if you do, you will be rewarded with an emotional depth that no Eno record ever reached. And when the record ends after roundabout an hour, you will be not in the mood to listen to something else for a while.
A great work from a remarkable musician.