Electronic EP Review: DE DE MOUSE & Shin-Ski’s “Rainbowtime” – The Consolation of Creation
By Jeremy Ray Jewell
Call it lofi or chillwave. Whatever it is, it’s worth it.
Daisuke Endo, a.k.a. DE DE MOUSE, has released his new EP, Rainbowtime, in collaboration with fellow Japanese artist Shin-Ski. It is, as Endo describes it, based on “the theme of a world connected to fantasy during the magic time of dusk.” Endo also suggested it has an “old school hip hop flavor and 90s ambient soundscape” along with early 2000s Intelligent dance music (IDM) and Asian influences. The pixelated cover art by Muscat sets the appropriate mood.
It is a very Lofi Girl mood, as Endo and Shin-Ski incorporate the binaural beats and alpha waves that generate the nebulous nostalgia that typifies electronic music that is classified as “chillwave.” At least that’s how music critics have tried to categorize it and other sonic amalgams, such as vaporwave. Yet the fact is that critics are having a hard time pinning down these largely online phenomena. This has led some commentators to suggest that, while these genres are in some ways retro, their detachment from commercial pressures make them eminently relevant. Online art forms are asserting the value of “art for art’s sake” in the emerging digital world.
Endo and Shin-Ski are both deeply experienced in creating this kind of noncommercial art. Endo regularly mixes the electronic and the analog in his music, even performing an electronic set in traditional Japanese attire in the very traditional setting of an onsen (温泉) hot spring inn. His art includes DJing, programming, mixing, mastering, composing, and arranging — and that’s just the music. Endo also has a hand in making videos for his songs. For his part, Shin-Ski’s versatile productions are known to include hip-hop, jazz, and techno elements, while he still remains a hip-hophead and beatmaker at heart.
In the four tracks on this EP, Endo and Shin-Ski merge their strengths to create ambient instrumental music made up of poignant melodies. “Rainbowtime Boy” is a refreshing natural soundscape dominated by piano. In “Crystal Halo” we hear birds and soft voices while a trip-hop beat and gentle strums of distorted guitar lead us into subtle horn flourishes that could be the sonic equivalents of lens flares from the setting sun. In “Marine Blue” there’s a sea breeze; we can hear the gulls amid the lively interaction between acoustic guitar and choir. In “City of Sunsets,” described as “a praise song,” the distorted vocals and emotive changes recall earlier DE DE MOUSE efforts, such as “baby’s star jam” and “floats & falls.” Only this time the spirit is even more restrained.
Throughout the EP, Endo’s signature approach seeps into Shin-Ski’s style like broth on tofu. The two friends seem to be enjoying exploring possibilities, playing with clarity and mystery. And they are doing this without breaking any new ground. Some critics will be skeptical of what they see as conservatism, disappointed that this is yet another chillwave/lofi production that refuses to meet market demands for innovation. But that is blind to how this EP is dedicated to synthesizing sensibilities.
Rainbowtime testifies to how these seasoned artists can blend diverse musical elements seamlessly. Drawing on their backgrounds in multiple genres, they have crafted an eclectic EP that transcends categorization. The tracks here exhibit a distinctive fusion of electronic and analog sounds, illustrating the artists’ mastery of their craft as genial piano-driven melodies create a succession of ethereal atmospheres.
Today’s online-native arts are forcing us to rethink the meaning of “art for art’s sake.” Worship of the absolute value of the aesthetic can be as much a return as it is an arrival. The rich history in Japanese art, its embrace of aesthetics and beauty of form, makes that enduring point. Arts dedicated to the past — from the sado tea ceremony (茶道) and ikebana flower arranging (生け花) to modern art movements like the Gutai Group — resist the pressure to constantly revolutionize.
Because of their emphasis on tradition, online art forms will continue to disrupt the problematic relationship between commerce and aesthetics. Perhaps the “shock of the new” has its limitations. Perhaps innovation is not an end in itself. Artistic pleasure and contemplation are elemental human experiences, and that is what Rainbowtime taps into: it is not about consumption, but an invitation to listen to music as a timeless and transcendent art.
Jeremy Ray Jewell writes on class and cultural transmission. He has an MA in history of ideas from Birkbeck College, University of London, and a BA in philosophy from the University of Massachusetts Boston. His website is www.jeremyrayjewell.com.