'Kaigo Kioku Kyoku' Review: Hiroki Tanaka's debut album is a meditative journey of life's circular nature
The album is built on the foundation of his experiences as a caregiver for his grandmother with Alzheimer’s and uncle with terminal cancer
Toronto-based artiste Hiroki Tanaka's debut studio album 'Kaigo Kioku Kyoku', which translates to 'Caregiving Memory Songs', is a well thought-out and meticulously crafted ode to a life at its tapering end. Built on the foundation of his experiences as a caregiver for his grandmother with Alzheimer’s and uncle with terminal cancer, 'Kaigo Kioku Kyoku' is a powerful and strangely fulfilling nod to the circular nature of life. Tanaka, in his soothing, velvety voice, sings of the house he grew up in, and creates a record that is equal measures honest and reflective.
The opening track, 'Bare Hallways', begins with the sound of an incredibly calming acoustic guitar and flows in a streamlined manner; like an undisturbed river flowing into the vast sea. A well-measured song, Tanaka sings of the ending of things with a hauntingness that, on the coming tracks, becomes the hallmark sound of 'Kaigo Kioku Kyoku'. The next song, titled 'Eternal Host', kicks-off with distorted electric guitar before Tanaka's flailing voice chimes in. 'Eternal Host' showcases his unique versatility while maintaining the superfluous vibe that the previous track conjured. An eclectic electronic passage beings to take shape in the middle of the track, and continues throughout the song, ending in yearning scream as he sings about the ironic position of an eternal host who has nothing left to give.
The following two tracks, 'Inori Intro' and 'Inori', establishes the influence of his Japanese roots and brings in meditative reflections on life. While 'Inori Intro' sounds like a lullaby – disturbed by periodic noises akin to Radiohead's 'Kid A' – 'Inori' is more of an indie rock track with sliding guitars and a lo-fi quality of production. It ends with a delectable rousing outro as Tanaka sings about facing insurmountable desires while having no choice but to let go.
'Snowdrops', the following song, is almost 10 minutes in length and is, without doubt, the best track on the album. 'Snowdrops' makes you feel like you're seated in a monastery listening to sacred, peaceful chants. It is both relaxing and unsettling at the same time, and is a sonic journey that encapsulates a life's cycle of a person living from one day to another oblivious to the commotion in the outside world. This track features recording of a person recalling their life while being close to death. 'Snowdrops' is powerful and capable of moving an invested listener to tears. It also showcases Tanaka's absolute beautiful songwriting as he delivers a heartfelt and moving monologue: "The dark ending does not cancel out the brightness of the meadow / Your day of greatest joy cannot be dimmed any shame."
The next three songs on the record are 'Blue Eyed Doll', 'Let All Mortal Flesh Keep Silence', and 'Utopia'. While 'Blue Eyed Doll' uses sounds from everyday life and switches the mood of the album to strangely uplifting, 'Let All Mortal Flesh Keep Silence' – has been arranged and performed by Tanaka's classically trained harpist aunt Jacqueline Goring – is a polished and exquisitely executed much-needed interlude. 'Blue Eyed Doll', which features bits of the Japanese folk song 'Aoi Me No Ningyo', is Tanaka's best vocal performance on the folk-tinged indie rock record with arresting falsetto and piercing high notes. 'Utopia', the final track, is bass-heavy and carries with it a dreamlike quality. It's the perfect closer to a near-perfect first album.
Talking about the record, Tanaka had said, "I wanted to create a sonic archive of the space that had provided me life, and served as space for transformation and shedding. I wanted to provide a voice that I hadn’t heard before, one that illustrated the experience of being a caregiver in stark detail. One that celebrated my family's multicultural heritage and created a snapshot of a family's history." Staying true to his words, 'Kaigo Kioku Kyoku' proves to be an emotional rollercoaster that achieves all it sets out to achieve without deviating from its core sound.