SMAIBLUE – Lunar Dreams – Album Review
…and still to this day, ever since I heard it, usually at some point between awake & dreaming, I can still hear the fragile & beautiful sound of the final song on SMAIBLUE’s last record whispering in my head…and more specifically, it’s the title of the record that’s sung-out at the end of “I Miss You” that seems to endlessly bounce around my mind like it’s a permanent part of my thought-process now…
…”that’s enough love songs – see you soon…”
It’s like a distant memory or nostalgia-inducing sound to my ears at this point…the kind of song that’s entwined with the soul, never to be separated…what SMAIBLUE has done is no small achievement by any stretch – that song is every bit as much a part of me as it is him now that it’s been released into the world for all to hear…maybe it’s a part of you as well. I suppose what I’m saying is, SMAIBLUE has that incredibly rare ability to create subtle sounds that could permanently stick with you for LIFE. For how quiet, contained, and isolated the tunes on that last record could often feel – the impact that album’s worth of songs made was immeasurable – it was a full lineup of memorable, charming, and meaningful songs. It put SMAIBLUE’s music on my radar for the rest of time from that moment going forward, and I’m stoked to have this artist back on our pages with a brand-new record in 2020.
As the new album Lunar Dreams began with its title-cut, I was instantly impressed by how much it was immediately apparent that SMAIBLUE is continuing to lean into the art of music without compromise. SMAIBLUE knows full well that a song like “Lunar Dreams” doesn’t make it to radio, and that would never be the reason anyone would make a track like this in the first place…this is an artist that understands the limitless possibilities that music can present and has the courage to create genuine uniqueness without fear. To me and my ears, the results are crystal-clear – as strange as a song like “Lunar Dreams” might appear to some for its composition or sound, what I’m personally hearing is pure art and sonic gold. Even the way it fades in…I like that…and it’s probably not something I usually would – but here within the context of this album it starts out like the beginning of a lunar dream of its own of sorts…you’ll even hear references to dreams in the lyrics & vocals as this records title-track starts out. So to me, everything seemed to fit and snap into place right away, even as it seemed to be pulling into focus at the very same time – you following me? “Lunar Dreams” comes with an inherent exploratory vibe and insightful lyricism that has its own gravitational pull. “It’s just a theory” – but I think a lot of people out there might actually end up being surprised by just how smoothly they slipped right into the atmosphere of “Lunar Dreams” and how easily this song retained their attention through authentically interesting ideas in both the music & words. It’s antitypical for sure, but hey, that’s SMAIBLUE for ya.
“Cave With No Name” is bloody gorgeous, straight-up. SMAIBLUE is treading in very minimalist terrain with all of what goes into the makeup of this second cut’s sound – but maximizes its potential impact on us through the use of pace & space. As slow as the song moves, it still quickly becomes completely mesmerizing…and its stoic nature keeps our ears attentive and trained on our speakers listening for the slightest of changes. When it comes right down to it, there aren’t that many to be found really – and it’s not going to be too often that you’ll find me advocating too strongly on behalf of songs with that style of composition & structure – but I have to say, SMAIBLUE has 100% beaten those odds with how stunning and wonderful the experience of “Cave With No Name” truly is. Like, once it’s all settled into its awesome combination of glowing warmth and ice-like tones…I honestly didn’t want anything at all to change…I would have happily sat in the comfort of this vibe for much longer than the four-minutes in length that it runs for. I do recognize that I’m probably an anomaly in that sense…there IS a risk in having such a rooted-in atmospheric track so close to the start of a set…there is the potential of losing those people who are outside of the genre trying to find their way in if there’s not enough happening to keep them there. In my heart of hearts, I can only hope listeners stick with a beautiful instrumental like “Cave With No Name” and discover that connection to the soul…it might be more simplified compared to other SMAIBLUE tunes, sure – but there’s no mistaking how every note in this song counts for something incredible overall. You can feel the music of “Cave With No Name” & it’s a wonderful thing. As far as my ears are concerned, “Cave With No Name” is a real highlight on this record early on.
What’s not to love though? Every time “RCA” came on, I was convinced that it was all I’d wanna hear for the rest of the day. SMAIBLUE has such an incredible grip on creating emotionally-charged music in the most subtle of ways…it’s almost always so delicate & gentle, yet the music is always so engrossing and engaging in every way you can think of. The texture of the tones and the way SMAIBLUE gets the most out of a moment like “RCA” deserves a serious high five…he’s gone and made one of my favorites the shortest cut on the record by at least thirty-seconds or more in comparison to all the rest, but forgiveness for that comes easily…I’ll take what I can get and y’all know it. For the record though, just in case anyone out there isn’t clear on what I’m saying…I’d happily take another ten minutes worth of “RCA” and I promise I won’t complain. Some moments in time you just want to pack up your things and move right into…if this song was a house, I’d be home, to paraphrase a line from an Owl City tune…but it’s the truth, “RCA” has a ton of quaint beauty and charm to it…and honestly, I could never get enough.
By the time you reach “With Family,” if you weren’t familiar with the type of gentle sounds & songs that SMAIBLUE tends to create, you likely ‘get it’ now; and if you find yourself continuing to listen from here on, then you’re just like me and you really do ‘get it’ – because even in the most ambient forms you’ll find this project inside of like on this fourth tune from Lunar Dreams, it’s still intensely gripping music. I’d probably argue that “With Family” takes even more risks with its minimalistic design than even “Cave With No Name” did earlier on in that same respect to attracting the masses out there…but I’m equally inclined to say who cares about the entire audience when the people that respond to what SMAIBLUE is creating will be loyal fans for LIFE. No band or artist out there can please 100% of the people 100% of the time anyway…staying in your lane, understanding what your fans really love about your music, and continually executing on that is never a bad strategy. Personally, I think there can be a ton of value by staying the course and getting locked right into a moment like SMAIBLUE does on “With Family” and a few other tunes throughout this record; they’ll change enough if you’re listening, but a lot of that comes just as much through the frequency or tone as it would through any specific chord or key change normally. So it’s right around this point on the record that I could understand some people out there forming the unbreakable bond to SMAIBLUE’s music in realizing that just about every song this dude creates has seriously understated magic to it…but also the point where I can imagine the restless getting even more restless. And hey man…if you can’t find a little peace & quiet & inner-harmony through a track like “With Family,” I’m not sure what to tell ya. This track is like the freakin’ gateway to the heart.
“Waterfront Revolving Restaurant” features another structure & sound that moves like still water on the surface and plenty involved going on underneath it all…mind you, that’s kind of the bread/butter of SMAIBLUE’s music when it comes right down to it. So many of these songs appear to lock into their moment, which is a fantastic thing; I could totally understand if the everyday listener felt there needed to be more to it, that’s gonna be a natural reaction for many I’m sure…but when you consider the efforts being made from the music to the production, I think SMAIBLUE deserves extra credit for the entire approach to sound this project expresses itself with. Small factors make huge differences on a record like this one…even the faded-in beginning of “Waterfront Revolving Restaurant” seemed to defy the odds once more and work really well again as this tune becomes more clear and the notes begin to sparkle in the air around you like fireflies in the night. Like flickering lights that continually catch your attention, you feel like you can vividly connect to the imagery in your mind as you listen to a song like “Waterfront Revolving Restaurant” and virtually see what SMAIBLUE is seeing – and how cool is that? All I know is that to my ears, this track was no less appealing or alluring than any of the rest on this record…everywhere I turned on Lunar Dreams seemed to reveal more soul-soothing sound; the hooks you’re normally accustomed to look for in music do not exist here…the catchiness of a quick moment of satisfaction are fully replaced by songs that keep an inviting & interesting cadence all the way through.
As “a guy doing what he loves and sharing it with you” – it’s hard to say where SMAIBLUE considers himself to be the most capable as a performer or artist…but I hope he’s able to recognize just how meaningful & strong of a bond he’s creating with his music, truly. I listen to a song like “Petrichor” and the reemergence of vocals in SMAIBLUE’s music and every time I did, it would hit me just how much I really love the way the singing on this record and the last one have come out. Again…it’s all so antitypical that I’m not crazy enough to believe everyone will hear what I hear in him – but I can sure hope so, can’t I? It’s just such a different approach to singing that it makes an enormous impact…and like most things if not all-things-SMAIBLUE, it’s achieved in the most subtle & unassuming ways. For the most part, you’d likely argue that the sound of SMAIBLUE’s vocals are always on the WEARY end of the scale…and I wouldn’t argue against that really – in fact I’d probably lean into it. I think that’s a huge part of the magic in the melody and expression you’ll find in SMAIBLUE’s music and certainly on “Petrichor.” I suspect…and I think the lineup of songs on this record being largely instrumental confirms…that it’s likely the vocals that SMAIBLUE could be the least confident in when it comes to his music overall – but I’d definitely go down fighting on behalf of his voice being a monumentally important piece of his puzzle and an aspect of this project’s music that makes it unlike any other. Songs like “Petrichor” and the rarity of the vocals on Lunar Dreams definitely have people like me appreciating the added dimension of depth his voice provides the melody, emotion, and sound you experience in SMAIBLUE’s music. Though there are only three songs being sung in this lineup of nine…and they ultimately all incorporate a similar approach…I think with the piano-led vibes from “Petrichor” and the 10% more it has in the energy put into the vocal-flow probably gives this track the advantage of being the strongest cut with vocals in it. Or at the very least, that’s how I felt about it…”Petrichor” is a wonderful example of SMAIBLUE at its poetic & artistic heights, really bridging that gap between art and music through extraordinary ideas.
Incidentally, depending on where you’re listening from you might run into different combinations of how “Petrichor” and “West” appear in the lineup. You see folks? This is why you keep on a-coming back to us right? We’ve got the essential details and insider information you’re looking for that everyone else is straight-up afraid to print. Bandcamp & Spotify feature a different flow through the lineup at songs 6 & 7…and depending on your own personal preference of course, you might like one design more than the other, but I’m sure hoping we can all agree that this is one spectacular set of songs overall. Personally, I’ve been listening through Spotify for the most part…this was the flow that worked for me; so much to the point that, I almost didn’t know “West” was even a song of its own on those first couple spins without sitting here staring at the titles and just listening – it sounded like a natural extension of where “Petrichor” left us off…like an extended outro of sorts. Going back later on to realize that this wasn’t one big long song, I had the opportunity to parse out what “West” brings to this record…and if you’re asking me, you’ll find one of the most brilliantly serene & chill songs on the album right here. It might be so dialed-back, even on a record full of subtle tunes, that you might not even realize it went by so quickly in four-minutes with such slow-moving sound…but that’s how you know when a song is truly captivating ain’t it? When you’re completely lost inside of a sound and only snap out of it once it’s over – isn’t that about the best compliment you can pay to a song? You become entranced in listening to tunes like “West” in all the right ways…this was another tune I wanted to live right inside of somehow.
Even after all that I’ve described, I still felt this record got even better, at the very least one more time, before it’s all over. I’ve experienced a lot of songs I genuinely love on this album…and towards the end with “Shabu Shabu In Nagoya,” I think I might have even found my favorite of the bunch. MIGHT have…don’t quote me on that part…like I’ve been alluding to, it’d be a hard choice to pare it all down to ONE selection…but this second-to-last cut makes a compelling argument to be my number one favorite. “Shabu Shabu In Nagoya” is absolutely fascinating, mesmerizing, and captivating in every way your ears can imagine or hope to find flowing through your speakers. SMAIBLUE has a beautiful way with the piano…and the slight twist in the production and tones of “Shabu Shabu In Nagoya” put this track right up there with the best of the best for me. I haven’t read the past reviews I’ve written on SMAIBLUE in some time…maybe he’s had a moment before where he’s reminded me of the songs I love most on Aphex Twin’s Drukqs album, maybe he hasn’t…I can’t confirm that, but I can tell you that’s exactly what this song reminds me of, even if that means I’m repeating myself. I am in LOVE with this song folks…straight up…there’s almost no other way to express what I feel towards “Shabu Shabu In Nagoya.” And here’s why… We talk a lot about music that is gripping or keeps us on the edge of our seat…and usually that’s a result of supercharged intensity raging between the lefts & rights – but I’d argue tooth & nail that a song like “Shabu Shabu In Nagoya” can create that same incredible effect when listening. This is where space, pace, and movement make all the difference in the world; you can hear how sweet & beautiful these notes are when you hear it for yourself…and your ears will naturally want to hear MORE of them come at you as you listen to it. Masterfully doling out the sound & notes on his own schedule – sometimes it seems as if the silence hangs in the air as you wait for that next note or tone to ring out on “Shabu Shabu In Nagoya” – and the effect & impact of that waiting genuinely creates the strong grip that keeps you right on the edge of your seat in anticipation of what comes next. Brilliantly well-played.
“Smaiblue’s Reprise” ends the record with quaint sound and positive messages of hope & healing in amongst the scattered thoughts & imagery of SMAIBLUE’s words along the way. I’ll say this…like I’ve already mentioned, I personally love this dude’s voice and think it’s a great fit for the material he creates. That being said…when it comes to the vocals, the approach is somewhat similar each time they show up in how they sound & flow, and how the emotion is communicated through the expression & tone…like I’ve been tellin’ ya from the get-go here, some will get it, others will not – that’s the nature of the game. For myself, obviously that works…and I know SMAIBLUE is equally onboard based on what I’ve heard and his extraordinary commitment to this material…BUT…I’d likely assume that’ll be the next challenge you might find he takes on…diversifying what we hear from the mic in that respect. It’s a very fine line to walk…because you don’t wanna change up a recipe that works so well…but at the same time, you’ll find artists like SMAIBLUE tend to reach for those extra challenges over the course of their careers. I don’t think I’m crazy…but I don’t have the words in front of me either – did SMAIBLUE just drop in the slickest Radiohead references ever put into a song at the end of this record here? I’m thinking that’s the case…and ultimately, that’s probably one of the greatest things to have slipped in there to cue people in to what SMAIBLUE has been going for…highly artistic tunes that resemble a lot of what Radiohead has attempted themselves over the latter-half of their career. Songs where each note may or may not be completely smooth around the edges in the music or vocals, but with the texture, humbleness, and raw honesty of real expression that connects to our hearts & minds like we’ve been waiting for it to arrive all our lives. And so…maybe I’ve had this wrong the entire time…maybe I shouldn’t be packing my own bags to move into these songs & sounds…maybe I should be more than happy about the fact they’ve moved into me. SMAIBLUE’s created another masterfully compelling and authentic record with Lunar Dreams; it’s about as subtle as music can be in a million ways, but I’m tellin’ ya, these songs will grip ya by the soul & never let go. It’s not long before you realize that grip is the hug you really need right now.
Find more music by SMAIBLUE at the official page at Spotify here: https://open.spotify.com/artist/06ma6IWVjyIuxjM4qMvkwd