There’s nothing like ambient music to nurture the creation of mind-movies. Cases in point, John Morgan Kimock’s Hikikomori and Nainnoh’s eponymous work can conjure vivid mental imagery and, while these titles certainly work well on their own terms, they may well function best as a double feature of cerebral cinema. Each entrance in its own way, but a combined hearing, regardless of the sequence, only enhances the hypnotic effect.
Upon first listen, John Morgan Kimock’s Hikikomori seems at once less dense and more conventional than the Nainnoh album. Except for a short snippet of spoken words, it features no vocals, but does include other musicians of note, most notably guitarist Steve Kimock (JMK’s father) on “Alyeska” and Phish bassist/composer/vocalist Mike Gordon on “Speed.” Yet this album—its title derived from a Japanese word loosely translated as ‘one who stays inside and focuses on a singular task for a long time’—refuses to turn predictable during the course of its ten tracks. Veteran Vermont musician Brett Lanier weaves his pedal steel throughout the waves of sound during the opening “Love Does.” helping in no small measure to instill humanity in the music that Kimock himself maintains elsewhere.
True to its gestation and completion in isolation during the course of 2020, there’s a discernible beginning, middle and end to most tracks. Yet the drama that pervades them precludes any sense of sameness, as does the astute sequencing of the title track in the home stretch of the album. Unfortunately, there are only the slightest traces of Kimock’s readily recognizable playing on a drum kit, but there’s enough on “Procession” alone to erase the mechanical feel of other rhythm components. Tracks like the latter and “Postal” are equal parts soothing and accessible so that, while Hikikomori is an extension of other work by this artist’s work from 2017 through 2019, the album nevertheless stands on its own via the stellar air of “Negative Space,” among other evocative interludes.
The glib and/or jaded music lover might quickly pigeonhole Nainnoh as today’s version of Enya, the New Age/ world music chanteuse of the Eighties. But the sounds this Eastern European woman makes are far more intricate and thus more exotic than the Irish female of yore. Like the opener “Cambium Rings,” music that at first may sound amorphous becomes as clear and colorful as the striking cover art (including the fatalist phrase tattoo depicted on the inside sleeve). Such cuts don’t go on terribly long—they range from roughly three and one-half minutes to just over six—but there’s a cumulative effect as one cryptically-titled track such as “Vital Illusions” succeeds others with more elemental names: “Water,” “Words,” “Seasons.”
The latter, with its unusually winsome melody accented by the rare appearance of acoustic guitar, is virtually the sole concession to conventionality here, so including lyrics to these ambitious soundscapes might not have illuminated their intent or their effects. After all, Nainnoh doesn’t use her voice to sing in a conventional manner, but more often as another instrument in a deceptively plush audio mix overseen through production by John Sully, mixing by Daniel Lynas and mastering by Chris Gehringer; the group effort may superficially belie this project as a solo effort, but the collective mirrors the statement of universality printed inside the digipak.
It may not be possible to literally dance to either Hikikomori or Nainnoh’s first, but that doesn’t mean they’re not moving in their own way(s).