Institute, a brilliant album by KOTOKOTO aka Toko Yasuda, comes out of nowhere, with not much else tagging along besides the music. Is their artist name also their first name, but backwards, twice?
Toko Yasuda is not a name from thin air, though: she’s involved with PLVS VLTRA, having released music on the great label Spectrum Spools, sitting beside artists like Belong, Second Woman, Donato Dozzy, and many others. She’s also toured with St. Vincent. It’s no wonder that this album, seemingly out of nowhere, is so good.
Within its stylistic variations, the album doesn’t leave you begging for more, and pretty well satiates in moments of ambience, in moments of dance, and elsewhere.
The cover art appears to be a shot from a plane, either just having taken off or getting ready to land. The photo is mostly dipped in a blue haze.
Institute is undeniably a very solid ambient album. Where most artists focus their albums on specific pads or specific instruments or specific sample sets, this album takes a more varied approach. The first few seconds has one sample dovetail right into the next, and one timbre begets another, as if made from the same cloth. There’s a certain level of orchestration, even if just working with simple found sounds.
Everything is placed just so – unlike other ambient albums, this effort doesn’t feel improvised, but rather premeditated.
Beats are generally anti-ambient, though there are a few here. Nonetheless, they’re pretty sparse. “Infinite Sea” eventually arrives at a beat reminiscent of the deconstructed club style, whether by accident or by design. “Scale” has some beats, but they’re further in the distance and in the background.
“Cafe Perth” has a beat, too, probably some of the most prominent on the album, momentarily lifting the release from an ambient lowground to modern house.
“Playing Sunset” drifts back down afterward. It’s an immediate favorite on the album. Bursts of voltage explode far off in the distance, and shoegazy shimmers shine up close. The track relinquishes all of this midway through and relies solely on module synthesis for output, reminding one of Charles Cohen.
The arrangements get bigger later on down the album. “Sahara” is as layered as any Sufjan Stevens cheery folk number, minus the cheer. KOTOKOTO isn’t shy about the challenge of writing and arranging for live instruments; the album is rife with live tracks, from guitars to vocals to other auxiliary acoustics. “La Vía Láctea” dials it down immediately afterward. Again, Institute isn’t lacking in variation.
Tracks 1 and 5 were co-written by Nicolas Vernhes – the Nicolas Vernhes who operates Rare Book Room Studios in New York, who has engineered, recorded, and mixed albums for The War on Drugs, Deakin, School of Seven Bells, etc?
While not overbearingly so, there are some breathtaking moments of gloom here, like on “La Vía Láctea”, which, though more sparse in its composition, provides more feeling in its moroseness than other tracks. At 4’51”, it’s the longest track on the album.
And altogether, Institute is just under 30 minutes. Putting it on in that time, it feels like a daydream with many thoughts.